40 Clinicians in 40 Weeks

National Health Service Corps, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Emem Ekpenyong, Physician Assistant

NHSC Member
Loan Repayment Program,
Fillmore, CA

Even before she decided to become a physician assistant, Emem Ekpenyong knew she wanted two things out of a career in medicine: To work in primary care and to work with underserved communities. The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program (LRP) made both of those dreams a reality.

Growing up in Nigeria, Emem always was surrounded by people in need. “When I moved to the United States, I was aware of the need for additional health education here,” she said. “People with limited access to care don’t always have enough information to make healthy choices. Since I’m lucky enough to be trained in health care, I want to pass along my knowledge. Most diseases are preventable, and as a primary care provider, I can manage patients before they become really sick.”

As an undergraduate, Emem was interested in both public health and clinical medicine. Touro University in California, where Emem was a student, was one of the only institutions that offered a degree in both areas. While there, she received a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies and a Master of Public Health. During graduate school, she heard about the NHSC, but since she was in a dual degree program, she could not apply to be become a scholar. That was fine: She made it her goal to apply for the LRP.

“I was working in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) in California’s Central Valley when a friend told me about an opening at the Fillmore Family Medical Group near Los Angeles,” Emem said. “I was interested in working there since I knew it was also in a shortage area, and I would be able to continue working with a population who really needed my help.”

This spring, Emem was awarded a one-year continuation with the NHSC Loan Repayment Program.  “I’ve been with the NHSC for almost three years, and the loan repayment has been a huge help. For me, it wasn’t about working for the money. I just wanted to learn to be the best primary care provider possible, and I knew working in a community with a shortage of health care providers would accomplish that goal. It’s just icing on the cake that my loans are repaid.”

When she is not working at her site, Emem takes time to volunteer in her Fillmore community. Over the last two years, she’s participated in the Fillmore Health Fair and 5K Annual Run, conducting blood pressure and body mass index (BMI) screenings for participants. She’s also involved with her local church group and facilitated a health event called “Exercise for Your Health” in July 2011. Currently, Emem is helping fundraise for Fillmore’s Relay for Life this September, which raises money for the American Cancer Society.

Emem says working in a community in need teaches her how to manage a patient with very limited resources. “You have to work with what you have, and it makes you a more versatile clinician,” she added. “I love the community I serve, so I think I’ll always work here, or somewhere with people who have limited access to health care. Not only do I love my work, but I also enjoy living here.”

View the article on the National Health Service Corps website.