(Source: Joe Goldeen The Record, Stockton, Calif. (MCT) — With all its shortcomings – hot summers, poor air quality, high unemployment, endemic poverty, increasing crime, cultural backwater – the San Joaquin Valley has not been that attractive to well-educated, new physicians and their families.
Combine those factors with a lack of medical schools in a region that is home to 4 million residents – more folks than live in Oregon or Oklahoma or 21 other states – and you have the recipe for a chronic, long-term shortage of doctors and other medical professionals.
The San Joaquin Valley is roughly defined as the eight-county region from Lodi to Bakersfield.
Long aware of physicians’ reluctance to the Valley, hospitals, medical societies and physician groups have been working with educators to identify young people with the potential and desire to pursue medical careers in an attempt to “grow our own” in the belief that many Valley natives will return to practice after they have completed their training.
San Joaquin General Hospital has been actively providing post-graduate physician programs for 80 years in general surgery, internal medicine and family practice, turning out a small number of doctors each year who remain to build their careers.
Last fall, the fledgling San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education sponsored by the University of California, Merced, welcomed its first class of six medical students – all Valley residents – to begin taking classes at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine in Sacramento.
However, a substantially larger program has been operating in the heart of the Valley since 1975. The University of California, San Francisco-Fresno Medical Education Program has trained roughly one-third of the Fresno area’s physicians. Annually, it is home to 245 medical residents in eight specialties, 45 fellows in 12 subspecialties and about 250 medical students on a rotating basis.
Kao Vang, 33, of Stockton just completed a three year family practice residency program through UCSF Fresno. In July, he will return to the north Valley to work in adult medicine at Kaiser Permanente in Modesto.
Vang, a Hmong refugee born in a Thailand camp before moving with his family at age 1 to Vermont, Minnesota and California, is exactly the type of new doctor the ethnically diverse Valley needs.
He lived in Crescent City before his family settled in Stockton when he was 7 years old.
A product of Stockton Unified’s Montezuma, Hazelton and John Marshall schools and Edison High, Vang stood out as a student and earned a Frank H. Buck scholarship to cover all his expenses as an undergraduate biochemistry major at UC Davis. The Buck scholarship also paid for his medical education at Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Vallejo, where he earned a doctor of osteopathy degree.
“It provided me with a phenomenal opportunity,” Vang said.
As a poor child – the second oldest of 11 growing up in a three-bedroom house – he was often called upon to interpret for elder Hmong when they would visit the doctor.
Vang did not have his own bed until he went off to college.
“I initially had a very positive experience with medical providers. There were very few Hmong individuals with the education who were able to interpret. At the time, I was old enough to understand and comprehend, I just felt that the doctors were appreciative that I was available. Now I know you really want to avoid that; you want someone older and more mature to interpret,” Vang said.
He was further exposed to a career in medicine during the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program one summer during high school.
Vang received hands-on training at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, Selma Community Hospital and Children’s Hospital Central California in Madera.
“I saw large volumes of individuals from underserved communities. One of my passions is to go back to the community and be an advocate for the underserved patients,” Vang said.
“I understand (their) struggles and lack of resources,” he said. “The Valley is full of a lot of very sick patients with chronic diseases. Either they don’t have or they don’t know about the resources available for prevention.”
With the training he received in the Valley, Vang – an admittedly strong advocate for the program – said he is “inspired” to get to work helping his neighbors.
Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/goldeenblog.
©2012 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)
Visit The Record (Stockton, Calif.) at www.recordnet.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services