The primary care push

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Long known for its more than 500 world-class specialists who treat the most complex conditions, UCI Health is on a mission to expand its primary care services.

Dr. Matthew Boone was recruited last fall from USC’s Keck School of Medicine to oversee this mission. Boone is no stranger to Orange County, having run and been affiliated with many of the county’s medical groups and hospitals over the last 30 years.

“I always felt that primary care at UCI was an underdeveloped gem,” says Boone, who is associate dean of clinical affairs and a professor at the UCI School of Medicine.

“Its reputation was really more along the lines of specialty care. Now I’m the UCI ‘primary care whisperer.’ My goal is to recruit and attract the best and the brightest with one overriding goal: that UCI will be not only home to outstanding specialty care, but also known for its outstanding primary care physicians.”He has recruited the first dozen and plans to hire an additional 60 doctors over the next five years. They will join the existing core of UCI Health primary care doctors, who include some of the region’s leading internists, geriatricians and family medicine practitioners. Many of them also are top teachers who train the primary care physicians of tomorrow to practice the most advanced patient care.

Among Boone’s first recruit is is Dr. Long-Co Nguyen, who knows something about hard work, persistence and dedication to medicine. Her parents were both physicians in their homeland of Vietnam, but when they immigrated to the U.S., the couple initially lived in their car. In time, Nguyen’s father would become one of Orange County’s preeminent vascular surgeons.

After graduating from Marina High School in Huntington Beach, Nguyen earned bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences and philosophy at UCI and was accepted at UC San Francisco, one of the nation’s top five medical schools. She went on to complete a residency in internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

Nguyen, who starts in August, would be a catch for any major health system, but the 33-year-old wanted to join UCI Health – and not for purely nostalgic reasons. She says her passion for serving patients aligns perfectly with UCI Health’s philosophy on the importance of outstanding primary care.

‘My future home’

Also joining UCI Health in August is Dr. Thomas Azeizat, who just completed three years of training in family medicine at UCI Medical Center, including a year as chief resident.

“I interviewed across the country, and I definitely felt that UCI was my future home,” says Azeizat, 28, who grew up in Yonkers, New York.

The first-generation college student earned an undergraduate degree in biology at Boston University and a medical degree at Quinnipiac University’s Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine in North Haven, Conn.

Azeizat also knows a little about hard work and dedication. His parents emigrated from Jordan in the 1970s. His father is a mechanic and his mother works in a nursing home. He says they helped make him the doctor he is today.

Azeizat, too, wanted to be a UCI Health physician.

“I really liked what [Boone] had in mind in terms of reimagining UCI Health’s primary care network,” he says. “I appreciated his vision. And he said he’s looking for leaders in medicine. Down the line, I hope to have a leadership role at UCI.”

Putting patients first

Like the current roster of in-demand UCI Health primary care physicians, the new doctors believe in putting patients first. “Whether it be preventive care, acute health issues or managing common chronic conditions, we want to provide exemplary care for our patients,” Boone says.

These physicians will be offering same-day, in-person appointments as well as virtual “telehealth” sessions. They will also conduct annual physicals, treat chronic conditions and diseases, and make referrals for preventive cancer screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies, mental health appointments and routine blood and laboratory tests.

Boone’s goal is to build on the existing UCI Health primary care culture that allows talented physicians to be the best they can be. “It’s really about being part of something where you can continue to expand your talents, kindness and compassion,” he says.

Nguyen can’t wait to get to work.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to help shape primary care in a way that most benefits those patients we serve,” she says. “This was a chance I just couldn’t pass up.”

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