For more than three decades, Drs. Marcia and Oscar Sablan have served the tiny Central Valley town of Firebaugh. In an affectionate portrait today, the Los Angeles Times describes a couple who made a plan to work for three years in a rural area and walk away from all their medical school debt. As Marcia Sablan mentioned last week in a panel discussion in Fresno, she and her husband moved from Hawaii and arrived in Firebaugh in July on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year.
The couple never left Firebaugh, and today they are fixtures in the community. But what I found particularly interesting was the couple’s recognition that medicine only goes so far, as reporter Anna Gorman describes in the Times article:
… (A)s they built up their medical practice, the Sablans say, they realized that they could do only so much in the exam room. For example, they would tell their diabetic patients to exercise, but there were few places to do so. So they turned to politics. “I just saw that was the only way change could be made,” says Marcia Sablan, who is still on the city council.
During her time in city government, Sablan has helped get more affordable housing, parks and a walking path in the city. She also spearheaded the opening of a child care center. Her husband, who is also still on the school board, helped get sidewalks built near the schools so students could walk to campus.
“What I do there is just as important but more far-reaching in terms of health outcomes,” he says, “than what I do taking care of the day-to-day patients.”
Sidewalks, parks, walking paths. These are what policy types call the “built environment.” And as the Sablans have found, what we build can contribute immeasurably to our overall health.