Q&A with Dr. Lynette Leighton

Our New Medical Director for South Napa Campus: Dr. Lynette Leighton

What made you want to become a doctor and specialize in primary care?

In 1998 I spent some time working with land mine victims in Burma as a physical therapist. I was drawn to helping the doctor at the camp, Dr. Cynthia, a Burmese woman who had been trained in England. I helped Dr. Cynthia deliver the baby of a malnourished women who struggled in labor. She gave IV fluids to a child with malaria, and I watched him progress from an unresponsive state to opening his eyes and eventually walking out of the clinic. I saw how her education, combined with very simple tools, could help save and change the lives of people despite having few resources. I had been thinking about furthering my education and wasn’t sure how.

Working with Dr. Cynthia was the moment when the light came on, and I knew I wanted to become a doctor and to work with underserved populations. I returned to California and applied to medical school immediately. I attended the UC Davis School of Medicine, did my residency at UCSF, had a family planning fellowship in New York, returned to become faculty at UCSF, and eventually became a family medicine physician. Since becoming a doctor, I have worked only in community clinic settings and have also volunteered for relief work in Haiti and rural Kentucky.

Why did you decide to come to OLE Health?

Honestly, I’m here in Napa because I fell in love with a winemaker! I decided to work locally, and OLE was the only clinic I considered. OLE is the only nonprofit community clinic in the valley, which made it the best opportunity to serve the community — especially people whose care may be otherwise marginalized due to language, cultural barriers, and socioeconomic status.

What keeps you at OLE Health?

What drives me is finding a way to help people with what they need, and where they are. That’s why I have dedicated my career to working with underserved populations.

What keeps me at OLE specifically is the feeling that I’ve made a difference for our patients by improving healthcare, especially sexual and reproductive healthcare for women. I noticed immediately when I moved to Napa that there are language and cultural barriers to getting comprehensive care and access to family planning resources, As the Medical Director for Women’s Health, I have enjoyed working within OLE Health and with OLE’s community partners to help break down some of those barriers. I’ve worked with local women’s health providers, public health nurses, and health educators about how to counsel women in reproductive health. Knowing that we can help a woman control the course of her life by something as simple as an IUD [a form of birth control] motivates me to get out of bed every morning.

One thing I’ve been missing since leaving UCSF is teaching. Recently I’ve started a mentorship program, which offers support to newly graduated providers. I hope this will also help recruit and retain providers in our community. A stable, well-educated group of primary care providers is essential to achieving health in our community.