Chelsea Chang, MD, a McAllen native, recently returned to the Rio Grande Valley to serve rural communities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Applying a passion to serve rural communities in the Rio Grande Valley

Chang, a McAllen native, attends to underserved border populations
February 22, 2019

Growing up in McAllen, Chelsea Hook Chang, MD, had dreams of becoming a physician for as long as she could remember. In high school, she shadowed a local doctor and witnessed how building positive relationships with patients could improve their health. While attending Texas A&M University, Chang applied the core value of selfless service by volunteering for various programs. Now, as a practicing physician, she has moved back to the Rio Grande Valley to serve rural communities.

“I got to observe a physician in my hometown of McAllen,” Chang said. “During that experience I saw how building rapport and trust, and encouraging patients to make even small changes really made a difference in their lives.”

Chang applied to the Texas A&M College of Medicine through the Partnership for Primary Care Program. This program offers an alternative way for potential students from rural or other medically underserved areas in Texas to attend medical school.

“I am grateful to Texas A&M for this program and for reinforcing the value of service in me,” she said.

Passion for service

The value of service stuck with Chang. From her years as an undergraduate up until her time in clinical settings, that is exactly what she did, serve.

Chang said she will never forget the Texas A&M student-run service project, The Big Event, “and how awesome it was to see thousands of college students giving back.”

During medical school, she participated in the College of Medicine’s Stand Tall Against Tobacco (STAT) program, serving as the vice president for a year. “Educating school age children about the harms of tobacco is near and dear to my heart,” she said. “Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in this county and in the world.”

Chang also volunteered at Martha’s Health Clinic, spending her evenings helping people who had no other access to care in Temple. Chang served as a medical student, then resident physician and, finally, as the attending physician. As attending physician, Chang said she admired the student volunteers’ attitude of service.

“As a physician, it was awesome to see how the students who were at the same place I was eight years ago still had the same drive and passion for service that I did.”

Proud to be Aggies

Chang met her husband, Kuang-wei Chang, who is now an interventional radiologist, while attending medical school.

“We met when we were both first-year students at the Texas A&M College of Medicine,” she said. “We got married in our third year of medical school and were thrilled to be able to continue our training together at Scott & White for residency in Temple.”

“My husband and I will always be proud to be Aggies and Aggie docs!”

After completing her schooling at Texas A&M University and residency at Baylor Scott & White Health, Chang stayed in Temple, serving as an internal medicine physician. She said she encountered patients who traveled from the Rio Grande Valley to get medical care. That is about a five-hour drive.

“My heart yearned to provide care for people who had traveled so far,” she said. “Many people in the Rio Grande Valley experience a lack of access to primary care. This is especially dire because this area also has some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes.”

There are several factors contributing to health care gaps in rural areas of the state. A major issue is the rise in rural hospital closures, which leaves nearby residents no choice but to go further for medical care. Some are simply unable to travel because they don’t have reliable transportation. Other causes of health care shortages in rural areas are low patient-to-physician ratios, inadequate insurance coverage and above-average poverty levels.

Respect, compassion, humanism

Chang’s attitude of service would lead her, Kuang-wei and their three children back to the Rio Grande Valley. In the summer of 2018, the family moved to Edinburg to serve rural communities.

“My experiences at Texas A&M prepared me to serve my community,” she said. “The values of respect and compassion, as well as humanism in medicine, were instilled in me.”

Though she and her husband have been practicing in the Rio Grande Valley for a short time, Chang says she already sees a positive impact.

“We get to treat a lot of patients who normally couldn’t see a doctor,” she said. “Now they don’t have to drive hours for care. I’m honored to be able to give back to the community I grew up in.”

— Leslie Cockrell

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