Feb. 7, 2023, David Mitchell — Since her election to the California State Assembly in November, many people have asked family physician Jasmeet Bains, M.D., how she will balance politics and medicine. Bains, however, has a question of her own.
“There’s a lot to accomplish,” said Bains, one of three physicians who will serve in the Assembly in 2023. “Why don’t we have more physicians running for office? It’s about representation. We just went through a global pandemic, for goodness’ sake. We need physicians at the table to lead the country.”
Bains said the physician perspective will be critical in the state legislature at a time when California is facing a budget deficit of more than $20 billion.
“Anytime there is a budget deficit, health care gets slaughtered,” said Bains, who is medical director of an addiction treatment center in Bakersfield. “I’ve got to do everything I can to make sure critical access programs in communities like mine stay open and have the funding that they need.”
Bains hasn’t wasted any time. On Dec. 5, the same day she was sworn in, she introduced a bill that would create a task force involving law enforcement, prosecutors, first responders, schools, addiction experts and community leaders to address the state’s fentanyl crisis.
Women won a record number of state legislature seats in the midterm election, but Bains said it wasn’t easy. She’d never before run for office and she was facing a Kern County supervisor on the ballot. Bains won her seat with 61% of the vote.
“As physicians, we’re resilient,” Bains said. “We have gone through so much in our training and our lives to get where we are that we’re ready for this type of situation. Critics don’t understand that. They think, ‘That person has no political experience. What can they do?’ Well, we’re going to continue being the doctors that we were trained to be and protect the health of our patients, but now in a much bigger and broader role. COVID-19 came in, and more than 6 million people died worldwide. It’s time for us to prevent that from ever happening again.”
It was another crisis that promoted Bains to pursue medicine in the first place. She earned her undergraduate degree in biology in 2006, but she was working at her family’s car dealership near Bakersfield when the recession began in 2007.
“I saw people losing their jobs, losing their health care insurance, and I saw how tightly those two things were intertwined,” she said. “That was a wakeup call for me. In Kern County, it came down to people asking, ‘Do I put food on the table or do I pay for my child to see a doctor?’ People were forgoing health care.”
Bains graduated from the American University of Antigua College of Medicine, returned home to train at the Clinica Sierra Vista family medicine residency in Bakersfield and later completed a primary care psychiatry fellowship at the University of California, Irvine.
Her first exposure to politics came during residency, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her to serve on the California Healthcare Workforce Policy Commission.
“When I first went to Sacramento, it was a whole new world for me,” said Bains, who ultimately served as chair of that commission. “It was a platform for me to talk about issues facing residents, health care workforce, recruitment to rural underserved areas and being an advocate for underserved areas.”
Bains has served in a variety of local, state and national leadership roles since then, including participating as a scholar in the AAFP’s Leading Physician Well-being program. She said primary care doctors are ideally suited for community leadership.
“If you want to know what’s happening in a community, ask a primary care doc because we’ve seen it that day in real time,” she said. “It’s a view no other profession will see. We’re literally at the helm of taking care of our community’s problems day in and day out.
“As a primary care doctor, we’re not just looking at one organ or one part of the body. We’re looking at the entire person. And in the back of our minds when we’re talking to our patients, we’re constantly thinking, ‘What happened in their environment to bring them to me in this state?’ That level of critical thinking is what creates community leaders. It’s natural for primary care physicians to want to get more involved politically because we have the knowledge and skill set.”
The state legislature convened Jan. 4. Bains plans to practice both medicine and politics.
“It’s a very popular question,” she said about balancing the two fields. “A lot of people like to ask me, ‘Are you going to continue working?’ We should stop trying to put limitations on people. I plan to continue practicing in my clinic. I might have to cut down the hours, but having an ear to the front lines is very important.”