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Community Medicine Fellows Making A Difference

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Whether caring for patients at safety-net and school-based clinics, or collaborating with community partners to advance health care delivery and outreach, this year’s new Kaiser Permanente Southern California community medicine fellows already are making a difference.

“We get the time, resources, and training to help the underserved, and to do what we want to do for the rest of our lives – how can you beat that?” said Edward Erlikh, MD, who began the 2017-2018 Kaiser Permanente Southern California Community Medicine Fellowship program with his colleagues in July.   

Believed to be the only one of its kind in the United States, the 13-month program offers seven junior faculty positions to graduates of family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatric residency programs. The program focuses on direct community engagement and advocacy. As junior faculty, the fellows also spend significant time teaching medical residents and students.

“This hands-on program that began a decade ago reflects Kaiser Permanente’s long history of partnering with other organizations to improve community health,” said Moises Cruz, MD, regional fellowship director.

“This is a wonderful place to learn,” said community medicine fellow Kathryn McHenry, DO, who did her residency at Kaiser Permanente Orange County. “Kaiser Permanente is an exemplary health care system.”

Each fellow is based at one of Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s designated five community medicine fellowship sites:

  • Family Medicine: Fontana, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Woodland Hills
  • Internal Medicine: Los Angeles
  • Pediatrics: Los Angeles

“It’s important to have more diverse physicians – patients like to see doctors who look like them,” said fellow Avelina Sandoval, MD.

The program requires every fellow to develop and complete a community medicine project that will positively impact the community he or she serves.

The new fellows recently met with Cruz, last year’s fellows, and project managers Sabrina Kosok and Rachel Hollander, on how to succeed in the program. Helpful advice ranged from exploring interests and taking advantage of networking opportunities, to developing a community medicine project that can be sustained even after they leave.

“Use this year to figure out your career,” said Heather Washington, MD, who completed the program. “This skillset is valuable – you’re going to be in demand.”

In fact, more physicians are turning to fellowships — additional, specialized training after they become doctors — to serve patients in need of more specialized care. Fellowship positions have been increasing since 2000, outpacing the growth rate of residency positions, according to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. In 2017, fellowship appointments reached a record high. Fellowship programs filled nearly 87 percent of the 9,766 positions available, and 79 percent of programs filled all their positions, according to the National Resident Matching Program.

However, the nationwide need for more physicians to meet the health care demands of a growing and aging population also continues to escalate. A shortfall of between 14,900 and 35,600 primary care physicians, for example, is estimated by 2025, according to a 2016 Association of American Medical Colleges report.

“Our community medicine fellowship program is unique in that it provides additional training for physicians who want to practice primary care,” said Cruz. “We encourage our fellows not only to be more aware of the community they serve, but also to improve community health and effect change through direct involvement and leadership.”