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Sokol and Lucero

Drs. Kimberly Sokol and Anthony Lucero

Two years after saying their vows to each other and leaving the cold Chicago winters for sunny California, the newly married Drs. Kimberly Sokol and Anthony Lucero never dreamed they would say yes to practicing medicine in Visalia. It was a place they had never heard of, been to, or had on their radar when they finished their respective residencies at UC Irvine and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Laguna Beach, where Dr. Lucero had grown up, seemed a more likely place for the couple to put down roots; Dr. Sokol’s parents had even recently relocated to Southern California. But when the couple attended a recruitment event by Vituity, the company that Kaweah Health contracts with to provide physician services in its emergency department, the couple could not turn down an offer to visit Visalia in 2018. When they did, something about Visalia caught Dr. Sokol’s eye.

“I wasn’t expecting to see this, basically,” said Dr. Sokol of Kaweah Health’s simulation center. The state-of-the-art medical training facility houses patient simulators where residents, nurses, and staff are trained year-round to bring the highest level of care to the community. The center was similar to the one in which Dr. Sokol had trained in at UC Irvine where she completed a medical simulation fellowship. “I wasn’t thinking a non-university setting would have something close to what we had. It was impressive that this was here at Kaweah Health, a place I didn’t even know about when I applied for residency in 2012.”

The couple continued its tour of Kaweah Health and Visalia. “We really liked the hospital, we really liked the people and we really liked Visalia, but we weren’t sure,” Dr. Sokol said.

Dr. Kona Seng, Medical Director of Kaweah Health’s Emergency Department, was part of the team working to recruit the couple to Visalia. They wanted the couple to become faculty members of Kaweah Health’s ED residency program. “We envisioned them as great additions for our community but we also knew they had great potential to educate the physicians of tomorrow,” he said.

The couple returned to Southern California, went on other job interviews, but could not shake the thought of Visalia and the opportunities it afforded. The couple would not only be able to practice emergency medicine at Kaweah Health with the promise of days off together, but Dr. Sokol could also become Medical Director of Kaweah Health’s simulation center – a highly competitive position in California due to the lack of such centers, said Dr. Lucero.

“We talked about it for a while, how these jobs would be potentially great for our careers and how the community was just a really great place to be overall,” he said. “For me, as an emergency room doctor, I can practice anywhere, but this job for Kim was huge.”

The recruiting team invited them back to Kaweah Health for a second visit, and flew up their parents. During the visit, Dr. Lori Winston, who oversees Kaweah Health’s residency programs, made the couple and Dr. Sokol’s parents breakfast at her home and took them on a walk on Badger Hill. Dr. Winston said Dr. Sokol’s father expressed relentless concern over the idea of his daughter moving to Visalia.

But in the end, Anthony’s love for his wife and her happiness, along with a care package containing a collar for the couple’s dog that read, “Hugsy loves Kaweah Health,” sealed the deal. The couple texted a picture of Hugsy in his new collar that said, “We say yes!” to Dr. Winston and Dr. Seng.

“We both truly felt like we would be happy in the job and happy working with the patients that Kaweah Health serves,” Dr. Lucero said. “We both fell in love with the job right away within the first couple of days. We knew we made the right move for so many reasons.”

The couple’s love story with Visalia continues. “We were not going to buy a house until after 2019 because we wanted to make sure we were here to stay. We both knew you don’t buy a house and leave, you buy a house to stay,” said Dr. Lucero, noting the couple closed escrow on their Visalia home in December 2018. “It just goes to show you how confident the two of us feel in our decision to stay here.”

Even Dr. Sokol’s father has warmed up to Visalia, Dr. Winston said. “Since then he has pulled me aside to say he was sorry that he was so rough,” she said. “He is so happy to see that we are ‘the real deal’ and there is a sense of family and community here that is great.”