It’s no secret that the Central Valley is facing a doctor shortage. A majority of physicians are choosing to practice elsewhere, while legislators like Congressman Jeff Denham take steps to encourage them to live and work here where they are desperately needed. But, while residents around the Valley wait weeks, or even months, to see a doctor, one area native has returned home to provide as many people as he can with the care they seek.
Nahera Adams, MD, recently graduated from the University of California, San Francisco’s Fresno Medical Education Program after completing his residency in Internal Medicine, and will now care for patients in Turlock as a primary care physician at Sutter Gould. Born and raised in Modesto, Adams spent much of his youth working through weekends and summer vacations on his family’s almond orchard in Turlock and learning about the world of medicine from his father, who has served as an obstetrician-gynecologist in the Central Valley for nearly 40 years.
Watching his father care for patients inspired Adams to follow in his footsteps, he said.
“He loves his profession, is passionate about what he does, and this definitely sparked my interest,” said Adams.
In addition to continuing a family tradition, Adams’ desire to work in the medical field stemmed from a desire to help the less fortunate, many of whom share the same home as the young doctor.
“There is such a need for primary care physicians here in the Central Valley, and choosing Internal Medicine and training in Fresno has given me excellent training to help serve our diverse population,” said Adams.
According to the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California, for every 100,000 residents in the Valley, there are 48 primary care physicians – 25 percent less than the state average of 64. There is an even lower share of specialists, and the area is also short on nurse practitioners and health professionals who accept Medi-Cal.
California’s Medi-Cal rates are nearly the lowest in the country at 48th, and an average Medi-Cal patient earns a doctor about $37. More than 12 million Californians are enrolled in Medi-Cal, or approximately a third of the state’s population, and over 35 percent of residents in California’s 10th congressional district are covered through Medi-Cal.
While Rep. Denham is actively working to combat this issue through bills like the Assessing Critical Care Efforts to Strengthen Services Act, which aims to study and then implement the best Medicaid reimbursement strategies for physicians in the area, Adams said that many in his residency program were aware of the need for doctors in the Central Valley, yet still opted to practice elsewhere. Even fewer choose to do primary care, he said, with only three of 19 residents in his program choosing that path.
Despite these facts, there are still doctors who are willing to practice in the Valley where they are greatly needed. The Central Valley is home to some of the most polluted air in the country, and its population suffers from higher rates of asthma and obesity compared to the rest of the state.
A good friend of Adams’ from medical school will now return home to care for patients in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and upon completing his residency training next year, Adams’ brother will become Turlock Sutter Gould’s newest and only psychiatrist. The benefits of returning home to practice medicine are immeasurable, Adams said, and as an Assyrian-American, he looks forward to caring for many of the people he grew up with at the Assyrian American Civic Club and the Assyrian Church of the East.
“It’s an advantage for both the physician and the patients, because you relate to the patient better and are able to gain their trust,” he said.
Adams added that speaking three languages (he knows Assyrian and speaks Spanish fluently after spending five years in Mexico for medical school) helps put patients who may not speak English at ease – something that will be useful in Turlock, which is home to the second-largest Assyrian-American community in the country and a large Latino population.
“Speaking to the patient directly without an interpreter goes a long way,” he said. “The patient feels more comfortable speaking to the doctor directly.”
In the coming days, Rep. Denham is expected to release a bill that will focus on creating more residency programs for future doctors here in the Valley, which hopefully will attract more experienced area natives like Adams to serve a population that needs them. In the meantime, Adams will work to provide the best care he can.
“I hope to gain the trust of my patients, and become an important part of their lives, helping them make the right decisions about their health and keeping our population as healthy as possible.”