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 past 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.’ I want to 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.”
A five-year plan
He has hired the first dozen doctors and plans to bring aboard 60 more over the next five years.
They will join the existing core of highly skilled UCI Health primary care doctors, including some of the region's leading internists, geriatricians and family medicine practitioners. Many of them also are top teachers who are training the physicians of tomorrow to practice the most advanced patient-centered care.
Among Boone's first recruits 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 United States, 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 Huntington Beach's Marina High School, Nguyen earned bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences and philosophy at UC Irvine and was accepted at UC San Francisco Medical School, one of the nation’s top five medical schools. She went on to complete a residency in internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center 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 one year as a 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, NY.
A 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 is familiar with 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.
He, too, wanted to be a UCI Health physician.
“I really liked what [Boone] had in mind in terms of reimagining the UCI Health primary care network,” Azeizat 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 doctors will be offering same-day, in-person appointments as well as virtual “telehealth” sessions. They'll 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. “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.”