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Alex Malliaris Peck has been a nurse practitioner (N.P.) for less than two years. But even in that short time she’s seen the value her work brings to the patients she serves.

“In my young adulthood, seeing nurse practitioners in practice made a profound impression upon me. It embedded in me a desire to serve humbly, to serve people in distress or who are hurting, and to do so with kindness, compassion and excellence,” said Peck, an N.P. resident currently serving at the CommuniCare Salud Clinic in West Sacramento. “I couldn't be any prouder to be a nurse practitioner newly in practice, in a pandemic, in primary care, in an underserved community. It's exactly why I feel like I was put on this earth.”

Partnering for underserved communities

Alex Malliaris Peck enjoys the opportunity to care for all aspects of her patients’ health at the CommuniCare Salud Clinic.

Peck is one of 11 N.P.s out of school for 18 months or less in the UC Davis Health N.P. residency program. The year-long, full-time program prepares recently graduated family and adult gerontology nurse practitioners to provide high-quality primary care in under-resourced areas. The program was created through a  partnership between the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, UC Davis Health Medical Center and affiliated centers and clinics, as well as multiple Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) that primarily serve Medi-Cal and uninsured patients.

The N.P. residency program, which is funded by a $3.5 million grant from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), welcomed its first cohort in July. A 2019 report by the California Future Health Workforce Commission calls for increasing the number of health care workers by more than 47,000 and expanding the number  of health professionals who come from and train in rural and underserved communities. This year’s residents are working at clinical sites including:

  • CommuniCare Health Centers
  • One Community Health
  • Peach Tree Healthcare
  • Sacramento County Primary Care Center
  • Western Sierra Medical Clinic

and various UC Davis Health primary and specialty care clinics, and also include telehealth visits.

“When we send people out to a rural or underserved environment, those clinics don’t have a rich network of specialty care like we do at UC Davis Health,” explained Deb Bakerjian, program director. “We want our N.P. residents to gain exposure to areas such as wound care and mental health services, along with common chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. That way, they can manage patients with those conditions they see within their practices.”

Caring for the whole person

Peck says many of the patients she sees are suffering from physical ailments resulting from anxiety or depression, likely because of the current pandemic.

“I couldn't be any prouder to be a nurse practitioner newly in practice, in a pandemic, in primary care, in an underserved community. It's exactly why I feel like I was put on this earth.”

— Alex Peck, N.P. resident

“It turns out that so many of those physical complaints are manifestations of underlying mental health concerns,” Peck explained. “That’s what makes our role in primary care very, very special. We can address their spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical needs. And we can do it all in one visit, in a series of visits, or in a lifetime that we might be caring for this person.”

Bakerjian and program leaders hope that some of the residents continue to practice in these communities after completing the residency. “With the combination of primary care and specialty care experience, this program enables these residents to step into practice and manage those more complex patients in a better, more efficient way.”

Read more stories about UC Davis Health’s commitment to the underserved