An award-winning partnership improves community health while fostering career opportunities for students in the Elk Grove Unified School District
By Suzanne Samuel
Fue Vue, a high-school senior, is getting ready to start a college pre-med program next year, the first step toward his goal of “becoming a physician and opening my own hospital to help underserved communities and populations with a similar background to my Hmong people.”
It's all because of a pioneering Kaiser Permanente community partnership in South Sacramento called Cultural Awareness and Community Health Education, or CACHE, and the dedicated KP physicians who make it happen.
Lisa Liu, MD, the physician-in-charge for Kaiser Permanente in Elk Grove, is the individual, and the spirit, behind CACHE. Valley High School, an Elk Grove Unified School campus, had invited Dr. Liu to participate in a career day for their Health TECH Academy, a school within the school for students interested in health care careers. She got inspired to take the partnership a step further, and, in 2007, CACHE was born.
Each year 30 high school juniors and seniors from the Health TECH Academy break into groups by culture. They identify a pressing health concern for their community and spend the rest of the school year working with their KP physician mentor to prepare and present a presentation on the topic for their community.
“By partnering with Valley High, Kaiser Permanente and its dedicated physicians have given the students a chance to learn in a powerful way,” explained Rodney Black, a Valley High Health TECH Academy teacher and co-coordinator of CACHE.
Anthony Wills, MD, a Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento pediatrician, is one of the 7 physician mentors this year. His group is addressing youth violence, hoping to bring their presentation to a juvenile detention center. Another group is addressing diabetes in the Hmong community, planning presentations on the radio and at community events.
The students aren't the only ones learning from the experience.
"Through CACHE I have learned that if I say to a Hmong patient that their blood pressure is ‘great,’ they may think it means they are cured and can stop taking their medication” said Dr. Liu. “Labels like ‘non-compliant’ become irrelevant if the real challenge is understanding cultural nuances. Now I explain things differently. That insight has made all the difference.”
Like Dr. Wills, Winnie Gandingco, MD, Family Medicine, Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento, is in her third year as a CACHE physician mentor.
"Sometimes it's hard for the students to see beyond high school or a summer job," she explained. "But seeing me, a physician who is Asian and also a mom, makes them think, ‘Oh, maybe I can do that too.’ I encourage them to aim high. If they tell me they want to be an EKG technician, I say, ‘What about being a cardiologist?’”
“A huge thank-you to Kaiser Permanente,” said current CACHE student Cindy Quach. “I cannot express how much I appreciate being given a chance to do a project like this.”
CACHE is this year's group winner of the national Kaiser Permanente R.J. Erickson Diversity Achievement award, recognizing “innovative and impactful initiatives that enhance the diversity excellence of the organization.” The program was chosen not just for its ability to impact and inspire employees, physicians, and the community, but also for its potential to be adopted elsewhere in KP.
"As the country becomes increasingly diverse, and the need for primary care physicians increases,” explained Dr. Liu, “students like our CACHE students, who mirror our diverse patient population and understand the challenges of the community, are exactly the people we need as practitioners.”