Valley Voices

Where will pediatricians come from? Valley Children’s has answer

Dr. Molly Dorfman of Valley Children’s Hospital shows the ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxyenation), which was used to save the life of baby Xavier Angel Rodriguez-Briones. It performed the function of his heart and lungs during surgery.
Dr. Molly Dorfman of Valley Children’s Hospital shows the ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxyenation), which was used to save the life of baby Xavier Angel Rodriguez-Briones. It performed the function of his heart and lungs during surgery. Fresno Bee file

A story in the Oct. 8 Bee asked, “Valley needs more doctors – but who will teach them?” It centered on a Fresno medical residency program shutting down because it lost accreditation and the ongoing physician shortage in the Valley.

But that story also struck a chord in me and many at Valley Children’s because we know the answer: We will teach them through Valley Children’s Pediatric Residency Program, affiliated with Stanford University School of Medicine.

Valley Children’s has decades of educating future physicians and pediatricians. We have an established and nationally recognized medical education program that partners to train 186 residents, approximately half being family medicine residents who will serve adults and kids.

On Oct. 20, Valley Children’s started interviews for our pediatric residency program, with our inaugural class arriving next June. This is a critical step, not only for Valley Children’s, but for the entire Valley, as we bring a life-saving program that aims to train and retain physicians, particularly pediatricians.

The Bee’s story also cited a shortage of teaching physicians as a problem in the Valley, missing that Valley Children’s has the faculty to meet this challenge. Our program is trusted by other Valley residency programs because we have those resources. It is also why we’ve earned our accreditation and received more than 300 applications to our program, with 136 candidate interviews scheduled.

All of this is critically important because our children’s health is already on the decline. Preventable diseases and sickness like childhood asthma, obesity and diabetes run rampant in Central California, potentially shaving years off the lives of children who deserve much better.

Last year, The Bee reported that one in six children in the San Joaquin Valley has asthma and 43 percent of children in Fresno, Madera, Tulare, Kings and Merced counties are overweight or obese compared with 38 percent statewide and 33 percent nationally.

A major contributing factor to those numbers? The Valley is one of the most medically underserved areas in the country, according to the Medical Board of California. The lack of primary care physicians – pediatricians included, means families lack the continuity of care that is vital in keeping people healthy.

We aren’t without solutions, though. Of the residents Valley Children’s trains, many come from the Sierra Vista Family Medicine Residency Program, the subject of The Bee’s article, and we are in agreement to continue that relationship after its closure. And by the start of our residency program’s third year, we will have 39 of our own residents training throughout the Valley.

Retaining them is equally important.

Raised in Sacramento, I consider myself from the Valley. Admittedly, I never envisioned living in Fresno. My exposure here was limited to drab stretches of Highway 99, but my view expanded when I became a hospitalist at Valley Children’s in 2000. I fell in love with the patients, the hospital and the area’s rich diversity – understanding it deserves the very best care we can offer.

Unfortunately, people from outside California see stereotypes – palm trees and beaches to the south, tall buildings and iconic bridges to the north. The Valley is neither. So they don’t see the benefits of being outside those highly priced areas.

We believe that once we recruit residents and young physicians to the Valley, they will fall in love with it and want to serve our communities, much as I have. That is why we will work to attract, train and keep future physicians.

Our program emphasizes residents from California, and more specifically from the Central Valley. Doctors tend to practice where they learn and become invested in the communities they serve, a likelihood that rises if residents are from the area.

Our interviewees are 11 applicants from the Valley – six from Fresno, and one each from Madera, Modesto, Porterville, Los Banos and Atwater.

Valley Children’s won’t educate in just our hospital, but across our communities. Our residents will rotate through local partners like Kaiser Permanente, Saint Agnes Medical Center, Dignity Health and local pediatrician offices.

This fight is personal for me, and Valley Children’s. But it is up to our entire medical community to educate our future physicians and pediatricians to keep our kids healthy for generations to come. If we fail, our children are the ones who suffer.

Jolie Limon, M.D., is chief of pediatrics and executive director of medical education for Valley Children’s Healthcare.