Sampath (Sam) Wijesinghe, DHSc, MS, MPAS, PA-C, CPAAPA, AAHIVS
Stanford School of Medicine/Adventist Health Central Valley Network, California
In the Central valley of California, including the suburbs of Fresno, there is a network of four hospitals and approximately 90+ community care clinics operating together as Adventist Health. Dr. Wijesinghe has been in practice for five years at the community care center in Sanger, a small city of approximately 25,000. “There are eight family medicine clinicians at our clinic,” says Dr. Wijesinghe, “My family practice patient pool includes newborn, pediatric, adolescent, adult, and geriatrics. I see about 20 – 24 patients daily, the majority of whom are of Hispanic or Latino population. About half of my patients are over the age of 50.”
Dr. Wijesinghe began his HIV/AIDS clinical fellowship in 2013 and has been taking care of HIV/AIDS patients since that time. Before his time in California, Wijesinghe obtained two Masters Degrees, one in Master of Science in Management Information Systems with MBA from the University of Nebraska and his Master of Physician Associate degree from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. While in Nebraska Wijesinghe worked as a Surgical Assistant at Methodist Hospital and also as a Manager/Trainer at a health care company in Omaha. Says Wijesinghe, “I decided to concentrate on medicine, which has been dear to my heart from my childhood.”
Wijesinghe left Nebraska accepting a job opportunity from Adventist Health Central Valley Network in California to start working in a family medicine clinic. While working at the Adventist Health clinic, he was invited to complete an HIV/AIDS clinical fellowship with University of California San Francisco’s Fresno Family and Community Medicine Department. Here he worked as an HIV testing coordinator in Fresno and Kern counties; an opportunity for Wijesinghe to educate clinicians, administrators, and patients. Recalls Wijesinghe, “At the beginning of my commitment as the HIV testing coordinator in Fresno and Kern counties, I spent a few days at a HIV specialty clinic to experience and learn more about HIV+ patients. During my first day, I met two individuals who touched my heart in a very special way to initiate and continue to work in the HIV field. One individual was an HIV+ child who was the same age as my daughter. Unfortunately, she was born with the disease. While I treated the child I decided that I would like to make a difference in the HIV field by becoming more involved. The other individual I met was a young adult who had newly tested positive and was at the very beginning of the disease, so his HIV is well controlled and he is having a very healthy lifestyle. After hearing his story I thought that I needed to be an advocate to promote HIV screening, so that we will be able to detect patients early and start treatments, so that they can live a normal lifestyle.”
It has been estimated that approximately 50% of HIV providers will be retiring in the next five to ten years in the United States. Therefore, Wijesinghe looks forward to treating HIV+ patients as an HIV Specialist, in a role much needed in our country’s future. While Wijesinghe finds caring for people with HIV to be very rewarding, he acknowledges there are many obstacles. “During my HIV fellowship I investigated why HIV+ patients miss appointments in a metropolitan clinic. My research concluded two main reasons; forgetting appointments and transportation problems are the two primary reasons. I find missing appointments and adherence are two main obstacles. I believe improved processes to remind patients of appointments and resolving transportation problems may help alleviate the current no-show rate.” In reviewing HIV treatment statistics, although 66% of HIV patients are linked to care, only 30% of patients are virally suppressed. Therefore, Wijesinghe has a long-term goal to increase the number of virally suppressed patients in the community.
“I completed my terminal degree in Doctor of Health Science (DHSc) with the concentration of Global Health at A.T. Still University. My research focus during the Doctorate was HIV disease and family medicine and I am about to publish my research. Also, at this time, I am writing a text book chapter in regards to HIV medicine. My hope is that I will be able to bring all of my background together (AAHIVS, DHSc, Family Medicine) and make a difference in HIV care in our community and then move forward to make a difference in other needy areas of the country and the world.”
Wijesinghe is currently a principal faculty at MSPA program, Stanford school of medicine. Looking to the future, Dr. Wijesinghe hopes we can achieve an AIDS-free generation. Says, Dr. Wijesinghe, “I would like to see no children born with HIV in the United States and a decrease internationally as well. At this time, the number of HIV cases are increasing in our youth, so I hope more education will be provided to our youth. I am not sure if we will have a vaccine to prevent HIV in the next decade, but I can definitely see that PrEP will be widely used.”
Dr. Wijesinghe is passionate about encouraging PA students (future clinicians) to consider HIV medicine as a specialty in their future practice. Because of the current and projected HIV provider shortage, he has initiated this effort with his colleagues at AAHIVM. Dr. Wijesinghe has given lectures to several PA programs in the subject of HIV specialty for PAs with the aim that PAs will step up alleviating the HIV provider shortage.
Outside of his practice, Wijesinghe is happily married to his wife Nuwan and has two beautiful children; a 17 year old daughter, Rynee, and an 11 year old son, Ryler. He loves to travel with his family, listen to music, play racquetball, and ride his bicycle whenever possible. When he was in high school in Sri Lanka, Wijesinghe was the captain of his high school volleyball team. He has precious memories from his volleyball years as his team became national champions in the years 1987 and 1990.
As for why he is an AAHIVM Member, Wijesinghe says, “As I mentioned earlier, I hope to bring all my background together and make a difference in HIV care in my community. I firmly believe AAHIVM is one of the most appropriate organizations for me to join in order to reach my long-term professional goals to make a meaningful difference in HIV disease.”
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