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Dr. Jennifer Oakes and Dr. La Donna Porter: Physician Residency Program Heads Bring New Physicians to Central Valley

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Dr. Jennifer Oakes and Dr. La Donna Porter direct the new Physician Residency Programs at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center of Stockton. These modern-day superheroes were both drawn to St. Joseph’s to build legacies greater than themselves with establishing the Emergency Medicine and Family Medicine Residency Programs. While continuing to work clinically, they guide residents on the journey to finding themselves and their calling within medicine. 

Historically, female program directors in academic medicine are rare, as 23 of 24 programs are led by men. Drs. Oakes and Porter had to fight for their respective programs to rise through the ranks to exceed the caliber and prestige of more established programs. Not only have both women lifted the bar for their programs, but they have lifted the women in the community through the glass ceiling. Dr. Oakes and Dr. Porter not only act as program directors, they also fill roles as their residents’ support, educators, substitute mothers and disciplinarians. 

For emergency medicine resident Hardeep Hunjan, DO, it is apparent that Dr. Oakes is more than just his program director. “Dr. Oakes continually looks out for our best interest. I am very thankful for her effort in this residency program; without Dr. Oakes and Dr. Porter, we wouldn’t be here.” 

Family medicine resident Navdeep Tumber, MD, echoed the sentiment. “Dr. Porter is fearless and instills that in those she trains. In every obstacle, there is a lesson to be learned. I am so thankful. We don’t fear that which is unfamiliar; we just learn how to conquer it.”

Dr. La Donna Porter
Dr. Porter was tailor-made to direct the Family Medicine Residency Program. She attended Medical School at UC Davis School of Medicine and completed her residency at the Stanislaus Family Medicine Program, UC Davis network program. After residency, Dr. Porter practiced full scope family medicine including hospital medicine, addiction medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and adolescent medicine, procedures, psychiatry, women’s health and community medicine. By 2012, the program director she was working with said he wanted her to apply for the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors Fellowship. Her modesty prompted her to ask if it would be more appropriate for the associate program director to apply for this fellowship as she was only senior faculty at the time. “When I asked the PD why he wanted me to apply, he told me, ‘You are the most senior faculty and you may need it. You may become a program director someday.’ I applied and was accepted.”

When she completed the fellowship in 2013, she reported to the PD that she highly respected his position and would continue to fully support him in his role. “Although I was not next in line to assume the responsibility of his position, I had hoped that maybe, one day, it would happen. I had roughly 13 years of medical student and resident education knowledge. I was appointed assistant program director and served for about two years before becoming the family medicine program director at St. Joseph’s.”

In 2017, Dr. Porter received a call from St. Joseph’s Medical Center Graduate Medical Education Department, and the designated institutional officer asked if she would like the position of program director for a new family medicine program that had yet to begin.

“Long story short, I said ‘yes’ and the rest is history!” she smiled.

Dr. Jennifer Oakes  
Dr. Oakes’ career path has also prepared her for the daily challenges of this job. She attended medical school in upstate New York at SUNY Syracuse, with the desire to go into emergency medicine, as she enjoyed the variety of experiences and the patient population appealed to her. She completed her residency in Boston at Beth Israel Deaconess, where she was blessed with excellent mentors who fostered leadership and academic ideals.

“I fellowshipped in medical toxicology, which had always been a passion and interest of mine,” she noted. “In Atlanta, I completed my fellowship at Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control, where mentors exposed me to public realm experience. I worked in my fellowship at the Health Studies branch in the National Center for Environmental Health of the CDC; a good part of that work was public service and liaison with public education, which I enjoyed a great deal.”

She then became medical director of the Nebraska Regional Poison Center and was core faculty in emergency medicine residency at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Dr. Oakes also consulted and held teaching positions at the Children’s Hospital of Omaha, Creighton University Hospital and the University of Nebraska College of Pharmacy. About 18 months after her arrival, she became interim, then medical director of the poison center.

“I was recruited to California by a former colleague as associate PD for an emergency medicine program in Visalia, then to St. Joseph’s to help with the new Graduate Medical Education Program. We wrote the program and are now in the process of reviewing applications for our third class of residents!” she smiled. “I have become more integrated into the daily operations of the emergency department and graduate medical education in general and continue to grow as a PD and educator in this role.”

Dire Need for Physicians
The desire to establish a legacy is not the only drive in bringing new physicians to Central California. “In a recent study by University of California, San Francisco, over the next ten years, it’s projected there will be 70 physicians for every 100,000 community residents in Central California, which is 50 percent lower than anywhere else in California,” explained Jax Fernandes, the institutional coordinator of the Graduate Medical Education Department at St. Joseph’s. “That statistic alone makes this program extremely valuable and the effects will make history for our community. By 2027, St. Joseph’s projects to have 171 physician residents being trained in Stockton. 

“The medical residency programs will greatly improve the expected deficit and deeply affect health care for patients in the Central Valley,” Jax affirmed. “We are looking forward to training new residents long into the future.”

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