Our Laguna: Clinic welcomes new doctor, holds open house

Dr. Reshmi Sinha traveled throughout the world as a child and a student, but she found her professional home in Laguna Beach.

Sinha joined the staff of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic immediately after completing her residency in family medicine at UC Irvine, where she worked with Dr. Thomas Bent, clinic director.

"I didn't apply for any jobs, I was going to spend time with my son, Jai — it means victory — but Dr. Bent talked to me about this job, and I couldn't turn him down," Sinha said. "It was my dream job.

Sinha's twin sister, Rakhi, is also a physician, but they chose different specialties.

"I am always in a clinic; she is always in a hospital," Sinha said. "I wanted the full spectrum — to be a real family doctor. You could be stitching a finger on one patient and then be treating someone else for a cold or sending them to the emergency hospital.

"You see everyone — rich, poor, adults, children — and I love the teen population here."

Slight of build, with long dark hair, expressive eyes, and a vibrant smile, Sinha, 30, could pass for a teenager.

She has packed a lot of living in her 30 years — traveling, a medical degree, marriage, motherhood — which perhaps explains her quiet air of confidence and competence.

Sinha and her twin were born in the United States, but their father's job with IBM had them moving all over the world in their early childhood.

"When we were 10, we went to live with our grandparents in India," Sinha said.

They lived there until they joined their parents in the United Arab Emirates where their father had accepted a teaching post at the college for the royal family.

Sinha earned her high school diploma at the International School of Choueifat in Dubai.

She is fluent in English, Hindi, Bengali and gets by with "medical Spanish."

After graduating from high school, the sisters returned to the United States to attend UCI.

"Our parents had read that Irvine was the safest city in America and said you are going there," Sinha said.

Sinha earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology in 2004 and a certificate in ethnomusicology. She was accepted at UCLA's medical school, graduating in 2008. Her sister went to Western Medical School.

While at UCLA, Sinha was involved in research that has been published in medical journals.

She presented her medical school thesis, "HIV/AID knowledge in Mauritania," at the 23rd Annual UCLA Multi-Campus Research Forum and at the XVI AIDS Conference in Toronto. She has also made presentations in Carmel, Chicago and Irvine.

While an undergraduate at Irvine, Sinha served on the board of directors of the Flying Samaritans International.

She was a member of the Golden Key Honor Society and the recipient of an Excellence in Research Award, Stevens Memorial Award for Outstanding Research in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Outstanding Commitment and Leadership Award from the Student National Medical Assn. and the Presidential Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

Her leadership qualities were rewarded at UCLA with a grant and a fellowship; she received the Golden Gavel during her residency at UCI and the 2011 Community Award at the graduation ceremonies.

Between college and medical school, Sinha worked as a behavioral therapist at Lovaas Institute for Early Intervention and the Center for Autism and Related Disorders.

The young doctor said working in Laguna Beach is an incredible opportunity for a first-time job.

As for the future: "I don't need a second job," Sinha said. "I am happy here."

Sinha was introduced to clinic supporters and visitors at an open house, hosted by the board of directors on Sept. 22.

"The clinic is fortunate to have such a well-credentialed professional," clinic board president and volunteer physician Dr. Pamela Lawrence said in her introduction. "The patients are fortunate to be receiving care from this compassionate and knowledgeable doctor and Laguna Beach is fortunate to have Dr. Sinha here as a strong participant in the promotion of community health."

More than 120 guests were on hand to welcome the second full-time physician to the staff and to tour the facility, guided by board member Marion Jacobs.

"It's been a while since we have given people a chance to meet the staff and see what goes on here," Lawrence said. "I think some people still confuse us with the Sleepy Hollow Clinic on Ocean Avenue."

Forty-one years ago, the Laguna Beach Community Clinic opened on Ocean Avenue and it primarily dealt with drug-related ailments and in the early 1980s with a mysterious new epidemic later identified as the HIV/AIDS virus. Services were free.

A sliding scale for payments was put in place after the clinic moved to Third Street, but no one is turned away.

"The Laguna Beach Community Clinic has played an important role in providing skilled medical services to everyone who seeks care, regardless of their ability to pay," said Lawrence.

Bent, who also spoke at the open house, has been with the clinic since 1982, first as a resident in family medicine at UCI, and then full time for 10 years.

"We get 17,000 patient visits a year," Bent said. "We are here for the people who live and work in Laguna. We couldn't do it without the donors, supporters and the board."

The open house was sponsored by board member Roya Cole; Doctor's Ambulance Service, represented by Dave Sanford; and Waste Management. Guitarist John Heussenstamm entertained. Jock Stalker's company catered the late afternoon event, chaired by Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson.

Dr. Korey Jorgensen and board members, including Susan Neely, Ginny Linting and George Heid were on hand to answer questions.

Among the guests: Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly, City Council members Elizabeth Pearson and Kelly Boyd, City Manager John Pietig, Deputy City Clerk Lizette Chel, former Mayor Kathleen Blackburn, Planning Commissioner Linda Dietrich, Laguna Beach Seniors Inc. President Chris Quilter and past President Pauline Walpin.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (949) 302-1469 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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