San Joaquín County high school students in the Decision Medicine Program 2017 spent a day at Kaiser Permanente Modesto Medical Center on July 25 learning about health careers as well as what it would be like to work in a hospital setting.
The program was founded it in 2001 by the San Joaquín Medical Society, according to high school teacher Brandon Piasecki, the program’s lead facilitator.
“The mission is to inspire students to go on and become doctors, but comeback and practice in San Joaquín County, to address the major shortage of physicians that we have here,” said Piasecki, adding that the state recommends 60 to 80 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents.
The ratio in the Valley, said Piasecki, is 48 primary care doctors per 100,000 people.
“Which is significantly lower than what the state recommends,” Piasecki said. “And San Joaquín County specifically is really low, so we are trying to address that need.”
This year, about 125 students from 16 different high schools in San Joaquín County applied for the program.
Of those, 24 students – mostly incoming seniors and a few incoming juniors – where selected for the summer program.
Piasecki said the selection of students takes a few steps – first step includes the written application, with school transcripts, a short essay; second step narrows down the number of applicants to 50 interviews and final step selection of the 24 finalist.
“The goal is to target students who represent the diversity of San Joaquín,” Piasecki said, adding that ultimately the goal is growing up their own doctors that will meet the cultural needs of the community they are going to be serving.
During the two-week program students have the opportunity to visit and tour a total of 10 hospitals as well as talk to doctors in all different branches of medicine from surgery to pediatrics.
“Everyday is a different site and different activity,” said Piasecki, adding that students went to hospitals all over the San Joaquín County as well as some in San Francisco, Davis and Modesto.
For 16-year-old student Cynthia Torres, taking part of the program has been an amazing opportunity.
“I applied because it would give me enrichment, to give me more knowledge about the field I want and I aspire to work in my future as a career,” said Torres, a Linden High School student.
“I have been exposed and given opportunities that really open my mind more to the medical field” Torres said, adding that she is very grateful for the opportunity to have been able to observe in a surgery. “It really gave me an insight to what I wanted to do.”
Torres, who would like to be a surgeon, said her parents who are immigrants from México encourage her to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor.
“They tell me to give my 110 percent, they are supportive,” Torres said.
“We are seeing results from the early days, it takes a while,” said Piasecki of students who took part of the first class of the Decision Medicine program now coming back to the area to practice medicine. “Hopefully in the next ten years we will be seeing many, many more students who started in this program coming back to practice in the San Joaquín County.”
“We need to growth our own doctors here. We need to have kids in the Central Valley see doctors that grew up here or around here, went off to great schools, great programs, became physicians and then come back,” said Steve Millar, Kaiser Permanente’s assistant physician in chief for Health Promotion and Innovation in the Central Valley that covers Stockton, Modesto, Manteca and Tracy.
“To see that is a possibility for them, really more than a possibility. If they work hard this is what can happen. And when they come to Kaiser and they can tour this world class medical facility and find out that no matter what field of medicine they want, they can have a job here and work and care for their patients.”
Millar said the program provides students a look into how they can provide “great care of their patients in the town they grew up in.”