LLUMC physician honored by American Heart Association
Vilma Torres, MD, associate professor of medicine, School of Medicine, thanks attendees at the fifth annual American Heart Association’s “Starts of the Heart” gala for her award honoring her as the American Heart Association’s physician of the year.
Loma Linda University Medical Center physician Vilma Torres, MD, associate professor of medicine, was named physician of the year by the American Heart Association at the fifth annual “Stars of the Heart” celebrity gala held Saturday night, May 6, at the Double Tree Hotel in Ontario.
Dr. Torres who is also co-director of the adult cardiac electrophysiology program at the Medical Center was honored for her achievements in medicine, says Linda Nichols, interim chair of the board for the Inland Empire American Heart Association.
In her remarks, Ms. Nichols noted that “we are very excited about gathering tonight to honor the lifelong work and commitment of our medical honoree, Dr. Vilma Torres, for her ongoing commitment and dedication to the practice of medicine.”
Dr. Torres was born and raised in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. She moved to New York City when she was 12 years old. Despite poor fluency in English, Dr. Torres excelled at James Monroe High School in the Bronx, where she was awarded a Bausch and Lomb award for excellence in science.
Her mother was ill during much of this time with frequent hospital admissions for rheumatic heart disease. Dr. Torres often accompanied her mother, serving as her translator and completing school assignments in the hospital at her mother’s bedside.
It was here that she developed her desire to become a cardiologist. However, she was frequently discouraged by her guidance counselors from pursuing a medical degree and was instead encouraged to become a nurse.
Despite the lack of encouragement, Dr. Torres pursued her dream and was nominated to enter a new prestigious six-year BS-MD program that was started in 1973 at City College of the City University of New York.
She entered this City College program for biomedical education with a class that suffered approximately 50 percent attrition rate, but Dr. Torres excelled, graduating magna cum laude, and was awarded a fellowship in the School of Medicine at Montefirore Hospital and Medical Center.
After four years at City College, she was accepted as a third-year medical student at Stonybrook School of Medicine at the State University of New York.
Upon graduation from Stonybrook, Dr. Torres married a fellow biomedical program student, Abel Torres, MD, JD (currently professor of medicine, Loma Linda University School of Medicine). They moved to California where she began a residency in internal medicine at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
Dr. Torres chose to attend Loma Linda because, as a new Seventh-day Adventist, she wanted to contribute to her Church’s mission.
In the Loma Linda University internal medicine residency training program, Dr. Torres was regarded by her faculty as one of the top residents.
When her husband was accepted to the dermatology residency training program at New York University, she postponed the beginning of her fellowship training in cardiology and instead accepted a research fellowship program in a new area of cardiology called cardiac electrophysiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
This allowed her husband to attend the New York University program which at that time was one of the largest and most prestigious in the country.
Dr. Torres continued to excel in her endeavors and at the completion of her research fellowship was offered a fellowship with the Albert Einstein department of cardiology.
The area of cardiac electrophysiology which she entered had now become a new field of medicine which today has a separate board certification and is considered to be among the most exciting and growing fields in medicine.
In this field, Dr. Torres holds the distinction of being the first woman and very first Hispanic to contribute to this field.
Among her accomplishments in the field of cardiac electrophysiology are: participation in five national trials, 27 publications, 22 abstracts or presentation at national meetings, serving as director of cardiac electrophysiology at Loma Linda University for 13 years (1985–1998), and establishing a fellowship in cardiac electrophysiology at Loma Linda University.
In 1998, she was recruited to become co-director of the cardiac electrophysiology program at Brown University department of cardiology. She accepted this position and started a Mohs fellowship program and center at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Brigham and Woman’s Hospital of the Harvard Medical School.
Once again, Dr. Torres made history when she became the first woman cardiac electrophysiologist in the state of Rhode Island.
In 2001, the Torres family returned to Loma Linda where Dr. Torres is now serving as associate professor of medicine and co-director of cardiac electro physiology in the School of Medicine.
She chose to return because of her commitments to family and Loma Linda.
During her career, Dr. Torres has mentored many female students and faculty. She also helped raise funds and served as a benefactor to establish a room in Wong Kerlee International Conference Center in honor of the Hispanic commitment to Loma Linda and was one of the originators and co-hosts of the “Cita Con Su Medico” Spanish-language health radio show serving the Hispanic community of the Inland Empire and emphasizing cardiovascular disease prevention.
For her efforts, she was awarded the Hispanic Alumnus of the Year Award from HALL (Hispanic Alumni of Loma Linda) at Loma Linda University in 2003.
In recognition of her dedication to academics and teaching, she was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha National Medical Honor Society in 2005 by the faculty and students of Loma Linda University School of Medicine.
Her latest project has been advocating for and assisting in the development of a women’s health center at Loma Linda University and the “Go Red for Women” heart campaign for the American Heart Association.
In 2003, she was nominated for and became president of the Inland Empire chapter of the Southern California American Heart Association and has been asked yearly to continue in this position.
In recognition of her efforts as one of the most effective American Heart Association chapter presidents, fundraising achievements, and other contributions, Dr. Torres was the guest of honor at the fifth annual gala sponsored by the Inland Empire of the American Heart Association.
She was presented with the American Heart Association’s Humanitarian and Special Recognition Award at the gala.
By Richard Weismeyer