Podiatry practice in Oroville is homecoming for Hmong doctor
If home is where the heart is, then it’s no surprise Dr. Ki Xiong had his set on returning to Oroville after completing his podiatry studies in Philadelphia. He’s deeply rooted to his community—both the city where he grew up and the thousands of fellow Hmong residents in Butte County.
One of those individuals is Dr. Nhia Kash Vang, a family medicine physician affiliated with Oroville Hospital. One of Vang’s younger brothers, Dr. Kham Vang, is a Chico dentist who graduated from Oroville High with Xiong, who has maintained close friendships with both.
When Xiong asked the older Vang about local opportunities for a podiatrist (a doctor specializing in feet), that question started the chain of events that led him back home.
“In Oroville, there seems to be a shortage of podiatrists,” Vang said. “Some of my patients could be waiting three months to get in to see a podiatrist. So I said, ‘Let me talk to Bob [Wentz], the CEO of Oroville Hospital.’ Bob seemed very interested, and they just connected from there.”
Xiong joined the Oroville Hospital Podiatry Practice in July, 2014.
Xiong, 31, is one of 10 sons. He was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, though he has no recollection of life before coming to the United States at age 3 with his parents and older brother. The family chose Oroville because Xiong had an uncle already living here and because of Butte County’s relatively high density of Hmong immigrants. As of the 2010 census, between Chico and Oroville, there were around 4,500 Hmong residents.
Xiong’s father entered the nursing field and worked at Oroville Hospital until retiring. That, in part, sparked Xiong’s interest in medicine. He’s not alone: One of his younger brothers is studying to become a physician’s assistant. (The others, he says, gravitated toward computer technology.)
Xiong attended UC Davis, where he was exposed to podiatry at a health faire. He appreciated the hands-on nature of podiatric medicine, in which treatments, procedures and surgeries go along with diagnoses—and also came to realize he could make a particular impact among his people.
“In the Hmong community, especially Butte County, there are a lot of people with feet problems,” Xiong said. “Everybody just learns to live with it or goes to primary care; there’s not much that they can do.
“So that, I knew, existed, and I already knew that gout was a big issue in the Hmong population. Pretty much everybody knows of somebody who has gout. So that was in the back of my mind.”
Few podiatrists are Hmong, he says. The American Podiatric Medical Association does not have exact figures, but just 4 percent of its members identify as Asian, and that group includes individuals from countries and ethnicities across Asia.
After graduating from Davis, Xiong and his wife, Porsoua Vue, moved cross-country to Temple University in Philadelphia, where he spent the next seven years studying podiatry. They now have two young children: a 5-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. Vue also works in the medical field, on the business side, as a medical coder.
Xiong’s homecoming sparked excitement.
“Having a new doctor is different than a new doctor who also grew up in the community,” Vang said, “because you know, unless something really didn’t work out, they’re going to be in for the long run.”
That’s especially significant to Vang because he, like Xiong, feels an obligation to the Hmong community as well as the Oroville community at large. Both doctors have participated in educational and medical outreach efforts. Dr. Kham Vang, the dentist, is another resource. Once another Vang brother, Udom, completes pharmacy school, they hope to further increase their collective reach.
“One problem in treating Hmong patients, communication is a big factor,” Xiong said, “understanding the people and their ideology. I hope that I will get a lot of Hmong people to seek treatment.
“I also hope that for the community in general I will be able to offer more options in podiatry…. A lot of times we get overwhelmed because podiatry is very hands-on; it takes time. Hopefully we can better serve the community as a whole.”