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Physicians Rewarded by Serving the Community

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Every summer, up to six doctors motivated by their strong senses of fairness and philanthropy immerse themselves in Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s Community Medicine Fellowship, a 13-month-long program at community clinics around the region to improve quality and access to health care for the uninsured and under-insured. Kaiser Permanente’s work to strengthen the “safety net” involves collaborating with community clinics, public health systems and hospitals, and other organizations to improve care, and to help doctors comprehensively understand the barriers to wellness. 

Kaiser Permanente sponsors the doctors’ work in the community clinics, mobile health units and high schools, but it’s not just about putting in time and getting paid. Each fellow is given a project that gets to the heart of an issue, whether it’s how to improve the patient experience, how to share knowledge among physicians, or how to get better clinical results.

“I tasted the bitterness of being uninsured,” said Hana Kim, DO, who emigrated from South Korea as a child. Kim went to Western University of Health Sciences for medical school and did her family medicine residency at Loma Linda University Medical Center. She remembers a time when her cousin, a local college student in the United States on an expired visa, became ill and passed out. When she awoke in the emergency room, she ripped the I.V. out, gave the hospital the wrong name and address for fear of being strapped with a medical bill she could never pay, and left without being treated. “It’s so sad she had to lie,” Kim said. “I went to the ER myself, it took me years to pay off my visit.”

Kim recently completed the 13th month of her fellowship. During that time, she worked on a project to improve the clinic flow and process at the Lestonnac Free Clinic in Orange. She also worked at a Latino Health Access diabetic clinic. She’ll continue her community practice at the Veterans Administration in Santa Barbara.

Getting Kaiser Permanente doctors out in the community is the best way to understand the most challenging populations. One way Kaiser Permanente has helped to further the clinic system is by developing a “hub” model, in which patients can get expedited appointments in ophthalmology, oncology, neurology, sleep medicine and rheumatology at a centrally located facility. New collaboration with LA County hospitals means more people can be seen, quicker.

Neil Chawla, MD, a recent graduate of the Keck School of Medicine of USC just embarking on his fellowship, said community work is in his DNA. His grandfather, an Indian ambassador, was deeply active in global health and justice projects.

Chawla wants to use his fellowship to work on “pipeline” projects that encourage and enable young students to follow careers in health. He’ll divide his time among Saban Community Clinic, UCLA Mobile Clinic, Marshall and Belmont high schools, and Venice Family Clinic. “It's exciting to be able to make my family proud and to honor somebody's legacy,” he said.

Photo:  Neil Chawla, MD and Hana Kim, DO