Born and raised in Stockton, Cristina Vargas is training to become a pediatrician 120 miles south from home.
The 28-year-old who went to UC Irvine School of Medicine, is one of the 13 residents in the inaugural class of Valley Children’s Pediatric Residency Program, which is affiliated with Stanford University School of Medicine.
While at UC Irvine, Vargas was also part of the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC).
“I am the first one to go to college and the first one to become a doctor,” said Vargas, the youngest of two children born to Mexican immigrants Artemio and María Vargas. Her oldest brother is a police officer.
Vargas also has a master’s degree in science in biomedical and translational science, and has done research in diabetes and under-served Spanish-speaking patients. She was instrumental in the creation of Southern California program to help low-income schools meet diet and exercise requirements for students.
After medical school, Vargas applied to 20 pediatric residency programs in the country, but considered 10 programs that were in California.
In selecting the pediatric residency program at Valley Children’s in Madera County, Vargas said “what spoke to me was that their main goal was to work and serve the Central Valley’s population of vulnerable children.”
“As someone who was born and raised in the Central Valley, I felt that was something would help increase the number of physicians that are here in the Valley,” she said. “I knew it would be the perfect opportunity for me to become part of the Fresno community and slowly start to spread my winds to the greater Central Valley.
Once she becomes a pediatrician, Vargas would like to work in outpatient pediatrics with an emphasis on community medicine and pediatrics with community program development.
Vargas is not the only resident in the inaugural class of Valley Children’s Pediatric Residency Program, who have deep roots to the region or are from California. Ten of the 13 are from the Golden State and four, including Vargas, grew up in the Central Valley.
“Valley Children’s has been training pediatricians for 40 years,” said Dr. David Christensen, senior vice president of medical affairs and chief physician executive in June as he presented the new class.
“Our vision to establish our own pediatric residency as been realized,” Christensen said, adding that the inaugural residency class “brings unique skills, talents, dedication and passion for pediatric medicine.”
“For seven decades, Valley Children’s has been taken care of the kids of this great Valley,” said Todd Suntrapak, president and chief executive officer for Valley Children’s which serves 12 counties. He said a third of the children in those counties live in poverty.
“If you complete your residence here at Valley Children in the next few years, you are going to see these kids,” Suntrapak said.
Suntrapak told the new residents they answered a higher calling.
“Many of you are from the Valley, and we know that you are going to stay,” he said, adding that there is a tremendous need of primary care doctors in the Valley.
Given the opportunity, Vargas said she would love to stay in the Fresno area but eventually she would like to move closer to Stockton to be near hear family.
“I feel that if I create a good foundation here and I am given great opportunities at Valley Children’s then I am open to stay at this hospital,” she said.
According to Valley Children’s, the pediatric residency program also features partnerships with hospitals and medical groups throughout the Fresno area including Kaiser Permanente, Saint Agnes Medical Center, Dignity Health and local pediatricians’ offices.