Katherine Flores, M.D.


Dose of Fame
Fresno doctor will be featured in exhibit, documentary.
By Roya Aziz
The Fresno Bee

(Published Saturday, June 21, 2003, 4:53 AM)

Fresno doctor Katherine Flores grew up in a labor camp, watching as her diabetic grandfather struggled without proper medical care. So when the National Library of Medicine told Flores she would be featured in a traveling exhibit about the accomplishments of female physicians, Flores chose a simple farm bucket to symbolize her career motivation. Flores -- director of University of California at San Francisco-Fresno's Latino Center for Medical Education -- will also be featured in a documentary for co-founding the local Doctor's and Junior Doctor's Academy program at Sunnyside High School. The documentary and exhibit will open in September in Maryland. Thursday morning, as a film crew taped Flores' lecture to a group of high school juniors who want to work in the medical field, she told the students to be sensitive to patients' cultural backgrounds.

To drive home her point, she gave examples from her own experiences.

Flores recounted the story of her diabetic grandfather, whose leg had to be amputated after a severe infection.

Doctors who first treated his wound with medicine didn't take into account that her grandfather lived and worked outdoors in the labor camps.

"You can't just give them a prescription and say, 'I'm out the door,' " she said. "You don't just take care of the disease. You're taking care of the patient. If you don't ask the right questions, you might miss the bigger picture."

She also told the students to be mindful of alternative medicine and home therapies common among Hispanic and Southeast Asian communities in the Valley. Don't intimidate patients by dismissing shamans, she offered as an example. Instead, encourage patients to take standard medicines.

The 49-year-old mother emphasizes more than cultural competency. She said the academy program is about service, and she encourages the students -- most of them from rural areas and southeast Fresno -- to come back to the Valley after their medical educations.

Even if they choose to be plastic surgeons in Beverly Hills, she said, she wants them to help fund clinics or programs such as the academy.

"We don't want you to forget where you're from," she said. "These are your roots, and you understand our communities here."

The first class of Doctor's Academy students graduated last month, and all 32 are heading to four-year universities.

The program, created in 1998, accepts about 40 students annually. Its goal is to increase graduation rates and help minority students enter the health-care field.

Flores said the academy program emphasizes good study habits and highlights self-confidence to prepare students for careers in fields where they are likely to be underrepresented.

Flores graduated from Roosevelt High School. She studied at Stanford University and went to UC Davis School of Medicine before returning to Fresno.

"Who would've thought that a Mexican from the fields could be a doctor?" Flores said later in an interview. "I was lucky that I had the opportunities I did, but I didn't know the first thing about college. I want these kids to have more than luck. I want them to be prepared."

Sandra Vargas, 15, said she wants to become a doctor and work in Fresno.

"I grew up in a single-parent home," she said. "I'm Hispanic, so I'll recognize a lot of the problems people here have."

Her classmate, 16-year-old Ben Thornbury, wants to be a pediatrician.

He's from southeast Fresno and said the program helps him better understand his community.

"I'm getting old," Flores told the students. "I can't do this much longer, but you guys can."

The reporter can be reached at raziz@fresnobee.com or 441-6679.



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