Dr. Kimberly Dixon tried her hand at a lot of different careers before settling on pediatrics.
She went to UCLA with intentions of being a journalist, got involved in community health projects, tested minorities for high blood pressure, talked to kids about safe sex for the Black Latino AIDS Project, worked in homeless shelters with women and children and eventually received a master’s degree in public health.
She even tried teaching third-graders for a year in a rough neighborhood in Long Beach, something she said was the most difficult job she’s ever held.
None of those jobs was her calling.
“My mom was like, ‘Focus. Finish something so you can get to work!’” Dixon said.
It was just seven years ago that Dixon, now 42, graduated from medical school and found that calling at her first job, working at Clinica Sierra Vista’s East Bakersfield Community Health Center – a career she says bridges the gap between community health and medicine.
“People hope all their life to find their purpose. I’m pretty sure this is mine,” Dixon said.
Dixon was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the Stephen M. Thompson Loan Repayment Program to cover her medical school bills in exchange for committing to work in Kern County, which is considered a medically underserved area by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
Programs like that, Dixon said, encourage talented physicians to practice in areas like Kern County, which has historically contended with a revolving crop of young doctors who build their resumes in Bakersfield, then leave.
But Dixon plans to stay, having developed a deep connection with the community she serves in the east Bakersfield neighborhood near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“I really get to know my families, and it really is like a community, this neighborhood. It’s like a family,” Dixon said on a recent Tuesday at the clinic, spotting a 3-year-old named Jolena she’s been treating almost since she was born.
And Dixon is acutely aware of the health impacts of the impoverished area she’s serving. A majority of her patients are on Medi-Cal, the state insurance for the poor. Others face barriers to accessing medical care or have difficulty navigating the system, struggle with financial issues, and endure violence, all of which impact the health of kids.
“You have to think about all these aspects that can affect health. All the social determinants of health,” Dixon said. “What about access to healthy foods and running around in the neighborhood? A lot of them can’t do that. It’s a challenge.”
What’s most gratifying, Dixon said, is becoming the mentor to kids she never had. When growing up, Dixon never knew a black female doctor. While going to school, becoming a physician never crossed her mind, and her initial thought was to pursue nursing.
“I’d never seen anybody who looked like me who was a doctor,” Dixon said. “For these kids, it’s nice for them to see, ‘Wow, she’s a doctor. She’s doing it. She’s giving back to the community.’”
Kids connect with Dixon, she said, because she “mirrors them.”
Like so many of her patients, she’s a minority woman, and grew up in South Central Los Angeles, a rough part of the city plagued with gang violence. It’s not unlike the neighborhood where Dixon now practices medicine.
It’s not uncommon for teens to ask Dixon advice for going into the medical field, she said.
“It’s really cool to be a mentor, and seeing somebody who looks like them who did it,” Dixon said.
One patient she has been treating since middle school is now attending UC Santa Barbara and is graduating next year. She plans to be a pediatrician, just like Dixon.