Aspiring Physician in East Oakland

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January 22, 2018 – When both of her immigrant parents faced serious illness in rural Merced, Vanessa Nuñez quickly discovered what health disparity meant. “I was fortunate that I had the ‘correct’ language, I had the ‘correct’ citizenship, and I was able to bring my parents to Stanford.  When I reflect on the care we got there compared the care available in my home town, it makes you angry. That’s been one of my motivating factors to go back into the community.”

Her journey toward becoming a physician brought Nuñez to LifeLong Medical Care East Oakland after completing undergraduate studies at UCLA in 2016. As a medical scribe there, Nuñez is paired with a provider in the exam room and types information that needs recording, allowing the provider to focus on the patient.  “I had worked with federally-qualified health centers before and appreciated the mission of the clinic. I love the job and learning so much from the different providers I get to work with.”

Nuñez was surprised to find that patients in rural Merced County share challenges similar to those in East Oakland, including a shortage of providers. She’s learning how LifeLong addresses the challenge through phone consultations and the care team model. “A lot of what I’m learning is how we integrate other providers and other team members into the care for the patients. We have psychiatry onsite, we have behavioral health, social workers, and case managers.”

In addition, she sees patients benefiting from the wellness center downstairs that offers classes in cooking, nutrition, exercise, among others. “Where I grew up we have one clinic and one PA (physician’s assistant), and it’s really difficult sometimes when you see the more complex cases.”

Entering the community health center workforce complements her studies and prepares her for a future in community health. “We have to address a lot of our patients’ social problems as well as medical problems which is something you study in school, but actually seeing it in the clinic has been really eye-opening,” said Nuñez, “We have a lot of patients who struggle with housing or food insecurity. You can’t put someone on insulin that doesn’t have a home where they can refrigerate their insulin. Learning to incorporate social issues into the care of the patient is so important. And, I’m learning more and more how you do that.”

This fall, Nuñez heads to medical school. “It’s always been my parents who have always been my driving force. They both emigrated here from Mexico. My father has been a farmer worker for most of the time he has been here, so they always pushed me to take advantage of the opportunities that I have being born here and being able to access the education system.” She has applied to medical schools that allow her earn MD (Doctor of Medicine) and a MPH (Master’s in Public Health). After medical school?  “Hopefully I can come back as a leader to get the ball rolling on some of these changes that we need and see what programs we can bring back to the Central Valley.”