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Firebaugh internist wins CMA’s annual “country doctor” award



December 08, 2014

More than 30 years ago, Oscar M. Sablan, M.D., an internist, and his wife Marcia Sablan, M.D., a family physician, decided to work in a rural area for three years to get their medical loans forgiven as part of the National Health Service Corp, a federal program to supply debt relief to newly graduated physicians who agree to work in underserved areas.


The couple moved from tropical Hawaii, where the Dr. Sablan was serving his integrated medicine residency at the Queen’ Hospital, Honolulu, to the dusty rural town of Firebaugh, 100 miles east of Fresno. The plan was for the couple to do their three-year service in rural Fresno County and then walk away with their debts forgiven.


They started their practice on the corner of “O” and 9th streets and have been there ever since.


In San Diego this past weekend the California Medical Association (CMA) gave Dr. Sablan the Frederick K.M. Plessner Memorial Award, an award given each year to honor the California physician who best exemplifies the ethics and practice of a rural country practitioner.


Dr. Sablan and his wife are the only full-time doctors in the tiny town of 7,800 and they are still treating many of the same families as when they arrived three decades ago. The whole town, from wealthy ranchers to migrant farm workers, relies on the couple. The Sablons have guided Firebaugh families through pneumonias, accident, injuries, cancers and bypass surgeries to better health.


As the Sablans built up their medical practice, they realized that they could only do so much in the exam room. So they turned to politics. Dr. Sablan has served on the local school board for close to 20 years and his wife has served as Firebaugh’s mayor for 10 years and has sat on the city council for over 30 years.


In addition to practicing of medicine and community service in public positions, in 1981 the couple started the community’s annual free Christmas day dinner, which feeds 650 plus people every year. Dr. Sablan has also served as the Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District team physician for all sports for 33 years.


It is common knowledge that rural regions of California have long faced shortages of doctors. While small towns near Firebaugh struggle to hang onto doctors, Dr. Sablan’s long-standing commitment to the community makes him an exception.


Learn more about Dr. Sablan by watching the CMA tribute video on YouTube.

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