Empowering Latinx physicians, medical professionals and medical students through education, advocacy & health policy to support their efforts to eliminate health disparity, promote and optimize health and the quality of life for Latinx in California.
MEET THE LPOC BOARD: Dr. Sylvia Diego, Treasurer/Membership Chair
Recently named the recipient of the Network of Ethnic Physicians Organization’s Excellence and Leadership Award, Dr. Silvia Diego has received many recognitions throughout her career. A career that is flourishing in the Central Valley, where it all began.
Growing up in the Central Valley, Dr. Silvia Diego decided she was going to be a doctor at the early age of eight. Her first love was paleontology (or a dinosaur digger as she called it), but upon thinking of the minimal amount of dinosaur bones laying around, her interest shifted to medicine.
As a child, Silvia and her brother received a gift of a microscope. It was then she discovered a love for examining things up close, trying to figure out how things worked. She eventually got a blood-typing kit and started drawing blood on friends and family, whoever graciously volunteered – poking them with a pin cushion – to check their blood type. This greatly intrigued her.
But what really inspired her to become a doctor, was the idea of being able to help people. To really make a difference in the overall lives of others.
At 14, she began working in a community health center during the summers, where she learned how to take blood pressures and other vitals. Her interest in medicine continued to grow. As she continued in high school, she found a love for the sciences and became involved with a number of youth enrichment programs to expand her education. Her junior and senior years in high school is where she connected with the Health Careers Opportunity Program, which was a great learning experience.
“Working in the community health centers as a young teenager I saw so much need. This was my community and I made the decision that I wanted to come back and work here one day,” said Dr. Diego.
As she started to think about college, she foresaw some obstacles she would need to overcome. Nobody in her family had ever gone to college. College probably wasn’t going to be close by, which would mean moving away. While her family was supportive, there were a great deal of unknowns for all of them.
She decided on Fresno State and moved to Fresno, away from her family.
“It was definitely a challenge transitioning to college. I was away from home, settling into a much larger environment.”
While in college she got married, had her first son, and was finding success. When it came time to look at medical schools, she wasn’t familiar with the various schools or which ones were more prestigious. She applied to several schools and had interviews at UC San Francisco, UC Davis, UC Irvine and Stanford. Her first acceptance letter came from Stanford and when her father told her he wouldn’t drive into San Francisco to visit her; the decision was made that Stanford Medical School it was!
Dr. Diego really enjoyed her time at Stanford and she and her husband gave some serious thought to staying in the area to establish her career. After much consideration, they decided to do what she originally intended, returning home to the Central Valley to take care of patients in her own community – the underserved patients in farming communities that grew up just like her.
As a family practice physician, Dr. Diego fell in love with delivering babies during her obstetrics rotation and nearly changed specialties, however after contemplating on how she could do both, she decided on family practice. She was able to find a residency with only family practice residents, so they got to do everything, including delivering babies.
When asked what has guided her career, Dr. Diego said, “My original goal, to serve the underserved and to improve the health of the community that looks so much like the one I grew up in.”
Dr. Diego returned to the Central Valley where she quickly rose through the ranks of a community health center. Eventually the administration of the health center changed, and the new administration didn’t seem to share the same goals as Dr. Diego. The new administration’s objective focused more on the business aspect, rather than the patients. That, in combination with undervaluing the physicians within the center and other health care professionals, elicited a great need for change.
February 2015, Dr. Diego and Dr. Lisa Gil made the bold and courageous decision to open their own medical practice where they could focus on the patients and not have to deal with the bureaucracy that previously prevented them from providing healthcare the way they always wanted. While much of medicine is focused on large organizations, their small practice, Family First Medical Care focuses on serving the local community, while getting to know their patients and families.
Dr. Silvia Diego loves treating patients at all stages of life, delivering babies, asking a 9th grader how they’re doing at school, or caring for an elderly patient. She is honored to have had at least one baby named after her – Diego. She sees herself as an advocate for patients and an advocate and mentor for young and potential doctors, where she tries to pass along a sense of compassion for patients. She rarely is without a student healthcare provider shadowing her.
“I love being a part of a patient’s life and their health. In an indirect way, I’m a part of their family. I enjoy being there for them in the good times and the hard times and giving them hope when they’re facing illness,” concluded Dr. Diego.
Advice to young people
“Follow your dream – school and good grades are the stepping stone.”
“Find people in your community and life who can advise and encourage you.”
“Persevere and work hard.”
Advise for medical students
“Don’t lose your passion. Remember the reason you went into medicine.”
“Remember your goal is the connection with the patient, that’s it’s a profession, not just a 9-to-5 job. Your family is important, and they have to be part of your profession, invested and committed to what you do.”
Married 36 years
Four children – surgery resident, dental student, engineer and high school student
Principal Officer/Owner – Family First Medical Care
Treasurer/Membership Chair – Board of Directors, Latinx Physicians of California