CMA Doc: Kent Yamaguchi, M.D.

April 16, 2018
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Leadership Plastic Surgery 

Kent Yamaguchi, M.D., (right) recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Fresno Maderia Medical Society.
Name: Kent Yamaguchi, M.D.
City: Fresno
Specialty: Plastic Surgery
Member Since 1974

A native of Fresno, plastic surgeon Kent Yamaguchi, M.D., is exceedingly proud of local institutions say his friends. “He always asks every resident he meets where they went to school,” said Krista Kaups, M.D., MSc, FACS, who has worked beside him for 23 years at Community Regional Medical Center in her roles as director of the surgical intensive care unit and program director of the Surgical Critical Care Fellowship at UCSF Fresno. “When they tell him some Ivy League school or another prestigious university, he’ll tell them, ‘That’s too bad you couldn’t go to Fresno State.’”


His advocacy for his hometown convinced Kenty U. Sian, M.D., to come to the Valley after they met at Indiana University Medical Center where Dr. Yamaguchi did his plastic surgery residency. “He’s responsible for bringing me to Fresno,” said Dr. Sian, estimating that half the Valley’s plastic surgeons are here because Dr. Yamaguchi trained or recruited them. Besides UCSF residents, Dr. Yamaguchi also mentored local college and high school students, encouraging them to go into medicine.


“I think he’s spent a lifetime giving back to his community,” Dr. Sian said.


Dr. Yamaguchi says he always knew he’d come back to the Valley to care for his community after going to UCSF and then University of California, Irvine, for his otolaryngology residency and Indiana for a plastic surgery residency.  He did one more stint out of state to complete a fellowship in head and neck surgery at Boston University before coming back to Fresno more than four decades ago.


In those early years he was the sole doctor on call for reconstructive plastic and hand surgery in Fresno say his colleagues at Community Regional’s Level 1 trauma center.  “If I had a tendon laceration, he’d come in the middle of the night to fix it” said Gene Kallsen, M.D., chief of Emergency Medicine at Community Regional and a UCSF clinical professor. “Other specialists might say things can be done electively later, but we ER doctors so appreciated it when he came in and took care of the issue right away …  He’s one of the most hard-working doctors I know.”


Dr.  Kaups estimated that Dr. Yamaguchi has cared for thousands of trauma patients, returning hand function to normalcy for the vast majority.


“He set a standard for hand surgery that is extremely high,” agreed Dr. Kallsen. “Everyone he’s taught and worked with knows the ‘Yamaguchi hand dressing.’”


Ask Dr. Yamaguchi about the bandaging method named after him and he shrugs in his usual humble fashion. He explains, “Oh that’s just a way of splinting the hand so it’s in the most natural, functional position” as if anyone would’ve done it that way, curving fingers over a softball-sized wad of gauze before wrapping the hand.


“His teaching style was very hands on and he was a good lecturer. He really does it all,” Kallsen said. Besides teaching hundreds of emergency medicine and surgical residents,


Dr. Yamaguchi also did research, publishing about 30 peer-reviewed articles before his retirement in 2017, said Dr. Kallsen.  Even though he’s retired, his colleagues expect they’ll see him continuing to give back to his hometown.


“I’m going to miss a number of things about him. I’ll miss his curiosity and the way he’s always thinking of how to make processes and procedures better,” Dr. Kaups said. “We’re going to have a very hard time finding someone to replace him.”


In presenting the award at the Fresno Madera Medical Society’s annual awards gala, Carlos Sueldo, M.D., summed up Dr. Yamaguchi’s impact simply: “He represents expertise in medicine, excellence in teaching and education, excellence in research and excellence in patient care. And I’m really, really proud to call him my friend.”


Dr. Yamaguchi was characteristically humble as he accepted the award: “I hope when I grow up I can be whoever they’re talking about. I’m most grateful for this award. I certainly didn’t expect it. I think all three of us were surprised and humbled by this honor.”


This profile was published in the Winter 2018 issue of Central Valley Physician magazine.


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