By Kimberly S. Slover
In the late 1970s, when medical school recruiters called on Emil Dominguez, then an undergraduate at Harvard College, they dismissed his intention to work with children in underserved Latino communities as youthful idealism. But Dr. George Margolis, recruiting for Dartmouth Medical School (now the Geisel School of Medicine), acknowledged Dominiguez’s career goals as genuine and convinced him that a small school in Hanover, New Hampshire, could prepare him well for his future. Margolis was right. Dominguez thrived in the close-knit community of faculty and students at Dartmouth—and in his pediatric residency at the Kaiser Program in southern California, near where he had grown up and would later launch his medical practice.
Today, Dominguez operates two pediatric practices in La Puente and West Covina, near Los Angeles, where he and a physician’s assistant serve nearly 4,000 mostly Latino children from low-income families. Eighty percent of his patients are enrolled in Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, and many others are uninsured. Their medical issues reflect troubling trends in urban communities: a high incidence of autism, diabetes, obesity, and the pernicious health effects of premature birth and substance abuse among parents.
As a self-declared “old school” doctor, Dominguez uses paper charts and works long hours, six days a week. His quiet voice rises when he asserts his feeling that computers compromise medical care by stealing time from direct doctor-patient contact. And with his large practice, he has neither time for nor much interest in computers.
Dominguez chose pediatrics because he likes children, and he jokes that “kids are more my size.” Children look forward to seeing the “lollipop man,” he says.
Dominguez’s patients and their families feel comfortable with him, too. They speak openly about their lives because he speaks Spanish with them, shops at the same stores, and attended the same schools.The severity of his patients’ medical conditions are often related to their families’ lack of education and good employment opportunities, poor diets, and unhealthy lifestyle choices. His patient pool also reflects Dominguez’s insistence on accepting most referrals of patients whose medical problems he says other pediatricians find too complex and costly to treat.
For Dominguez, treating such a challenging population is a simple choice. “These kids and their families are my neighbors,” he says, “and they need my help.”