Fulfilling a Dream to Help Underserved Communities

Kaiser Permanente Community Medicine Fellowship program graduates pledge to continue working to improve community health and promote health equity

Feature Story
group of smiling men and women
From left: Sabrina Kosok; Marc Klau, MD; Gunnhild Albrecht, MD; Mandy Kao, MD; Teresa Doan, MD; Elizabeth Kuilanoff, MD; Edward Ellison, MD; Julie Miller-Phipps; Avelina Sandoval, MD; Kathryn McHenry, DO; Edward Erlikh, MD; Angela Coron; Moises Cruz, MD.

Improving the health of people in underserved communities is an opportunity that seven young doctors have dreamed about since childhood. Thanks to the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Community Medicine Fellowship program, they got the chance to spend an entire year honing their skills to care for medically disadvantaged individuals and families.

During the program’s recent graduation for the 2018 class, each of the seven fellows passionately shared their unique stories about why they aspired to become doctors and to help reduce health disparities.

Some of the fellows, who were themselves raised in low-income areas, described how their immigrant families struggled with accessing adequate health care and the fear of one of their family developing a serious illness without health insurance. Now, as doctors, they are enjoying being able to help care for people in under-resourced communities. Other fellows said they learned the value of community involvement early in life, inspiring them to directly impact the community by providing skilled, compassionate care; shaping public health policy; and mentoring disadvantaged, pre-medical students.

From working in community clinics to homeless shelters, the fellows agreed the community medicine fellowship offered them valuable, hands-on experience as they continue caring for people in underserved communities throughout Southern California and beyond.

As Edward Ellison, MD, executive medical director, Southern California Permanente Medical Group, welcomed the audience and congratulated the fellows, he emphasized how Kaiser Permanente has provided high-quality health care to its members and communities for more than 70 years.

“We understand the factors that create health inequity economic, social, environmental – and we strive to overcome them,” Dr. Ellison said. “We believe our role as caregivers is to help all communities to become healthier by addressing not only their health concerns, but also the conditions that create health disparities.”

A decade of excellence

The celebration marked the 10th anniversary of the community medicine fellowship program. Funded by Kaiser Permanente Southern California Community Health, the 13-month fellowship focuses on improving the health and well-being of people living in underserved areas. Each year, the program offers seven junior faculty positions to graduates of family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics residency programs.

The fellowship supports physicians in their quest to address the nation’s complex health care needs by targeting the root causes of illness and chronic disease, while serving the needs of diverse populations and disadvantaged communities. Each fellow is required to develop and complete a medical project that will impact the community he or she serves.

Over the past decade, 46 fellows have trained and graduated. Collectively, they have:

  • Cared for approximately 110,000 underserved patients
  • Practiced medicine in 38 community clinics
  • Completed more than 150 community-based projects
  • Mentored nearly 1,000 medical residents and medical students

This year, each fellow designed a health intervention in collaboration with a community stakeholder, introducing integrated health care tools, such as quality measurement, chronic care management and health education.

“The fellows have shown impressive tenacity, commitment, and drive,” Moises Cruz, MD, program director, community medicine fellowship, told the crowd. “As a group, they have set their intention to respond to a collective ‘call to action’ to combat health inequity.”

A bright future                                                                        

Dr. Ellison encouraged the fellows in caring for others also to take care of their own wellness and not to doubt the powerful change a small group can make.

“I’m looking forward to seeing these inspiring physicians take their passion for service into the next phase of their careers,” Dr. Ellison said. “They make the world a brighter place.”

Four of the fellows will continue their medical careers at various Kaiser Permanente Southern California medical centers. Two fellows plan to practice at other medical organizations, including a geriatric practice in Chicago and a federally qualified health center in Escondido, California. Elizabeth Kuilanoff, MD, enjoyed the fellowship so much that she decided to stay on to complete a second year in the program.

“A concerned and well-trained pediatrician can prevent much pathology, and that is exactly the type of physician I will continually strive to be,” said Dr. Kuilanoff, who spent the past year serving underserved youth at Hollywood High School’s on-campus Wellness Center and other clinics throughout the Los Angeles area. “The community medicine fellowship has helped me to become the most effective pediatrician for my patients, my families and my community.”

The incoming class of community medicine fellows, which began their program in July, also attended the event.

To learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s work in the community, please visit https://community.kp.org.