For This Prospero Physician, Caring for Seniors is a Lifelong Passion

When Dr. Glendo Tangarorang, a physician at Prospero Health, thinks about the experiences that set him on a path to a career in medicine, he goes all the way back to a pivotal moment in his childhood. “Dr. T” grew up in a small town in the Philippines, the youngest of ten children. As a six-year-old, he tagged along with one of his sisters on her nursing shift at a nearby hospital. While following her around at work, the boy came across a tragic scene that, decades later, he described in precise detail.

“I was face to face with a young man who had just passed away,” he said. “I saw his now-widow clutching their baby, who couldn’t have been more than a few months old. There were two other children, holding her skirt, and she was crying. There was nobody there with her.”

Most kids would have backed away from the grieving family, or stood staring until an adult pulled them out of the room. Tangarorang, on the other hand, stayed with the family to offer whatever comfort and support he could.

“It wasn’t a decision — it was an extension of my natural inclination,” he said. “Even though they didn’t know me, I stayed there because she was crying and there were children there.”

After a few moments, an orderly arrived to wheel the young man’s body to the morgue. In a rush to gather the deceased’s belongings, the widow forgot his flip-flops. Tangarorang picked them up and followed the family down the hall as they prepared to say their final goodbyes.

The qualities captured in this anecdote — compassion, a desire to help, the ability to sit with discomfort — helped solidify Tangarorang’s future aspirations.

“I didn’t go through the phase of wanting to be a fireman or a policeman or any other profession,” he explained. “I know we can help people in almost all the professions, but it just came to me naturally to be directly involved with people and their families,” like the mother and her small children at the hospital that day.

Having always been drawn to older people, Tangarorang chose geriatrics as his specialty in medical school. Like many Filipinos, he had long dreamed of moving to the United States, and did so as soon as the opportunity arose. He landed at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York, for his residency. The in-your-face attitude of New Yorkers made for a rude, but exciting, awakening.

“The medical culture is different [in the U.S.], but what really struck me that first year was the New York culture, where they yell at you and say ‘Hi, how are you?’ without really wanting to know how you’re doing,” he said with a laugh. “The different ancillary staff in the hospital — the nurses, the technicians, the receptionists — they didn’t have any filter. Whereas where I grew up, we tend to minimize things to not hurt anybody’s feelings.”

Adding to the culture shock was the diversity of the patients in Elmhurst, a working-class neighborhood home to more than 50 nationalities. Many of the people Dr. T treated were experiencing poverty and homelessness. Working with patients from such a wide range of backgrounds helped the young physician learn how to break through cultural and language barriers in order to identify patients’ needs, both immediate and long-term.

Following his residency training at Elmhurst, Dr. T moved to Connecticut, where he has lived for the last 20 years. During this time, he has worked in hospitals, nursing homes, and private practice. He has also developed a geriatric training program for residents at the Yale School of Medicine. At every stage of his career, Tangarorang has been an advocate and champion for those in his care.

“Ten years ago, geriatricians were focused on convincing the medical community that not all older people are the same,” he said. “And that older people should not be treated just like middle-aged people, just like you don’t treat children the same way as adults. They have their own specific needs and challenges. Thankfully, as a medical community, we’re a little more attuned to that now.”

At Prospero, where Dr. T has been working for about a year, he can take the time to really get to know patients and understand what they want from life. Recently, he treated an older woman who couldn’t see her friends and family as often as she wanted because she had to use an oxygen tank.

“She thought she would be on oxygen forever, but we were able to successfully wean her off it,” he said. “She was finally able to go out to dinner with her friends. That’s the kind of simple thing that gives people a lot of joy. And the joy extends to us, too, because we feel like we did a good job.”

Dr. T was recently included as the only geriatrician on Connecticut Magazine’s “Best Doctors 2020” list. When asked about the recognition, the humble physician instead chose to talk about the comfort he feels in his current role: “I found my home in the team that we have at Prospero, not only the team in Connecticut, but also the management team that supports us and shares our values and goals. We support and advocate for patients so that they don’t have to do it alone, so that they can be happy and cared for and live the rest of their lives where they want to be — at home.”