Dr. Kristen Dimas, a native of the small migrant community of Immokalee, Florida, east of Naples, has come full circle after finding herself at the intersection of opportunity and purpose.
“They say that Immokalee is Indian for ‘my home’ and it truly is my home,” Dimas said. “This is the place that I grew up. I’ve lived my whole life here until I went to college in Tallahassee. And then when I was in Tallahassee, I really was able to see Immokalee for what it was. I had never left before.”
Dimas said it was college that made her realize how important Immokalee was to her. It’s also where she found her calling.
“I actually didn’t think that I wanted to be a doctor,” Dimas said. “I was not one of those people who grew up wanting to be a physician.”
A turning point came during Dimas’s first semester at Florida State University when her cousin was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“Everyone said, ‘oh, this is asthma,” Dimas said. “This is just a respiratory infection; maybe you’ve been exposed to mold.’ And it took so long for him to get that diagnosis and to finally get started on treatment.”
All of Dimas’ family lives in Immokalee and the late diagnosis of her cousin’s illness is only one of many similar stories Dimas says she has heard from her community. And just like that, a lightbulb went off.
“I was like, you know what, if I could become a physician and come back to my hometown, I could improve the quality of care for people here,” Dimas said. “So that really drove me to it.”
Her journey led her to Florida State University College of Medicine, where she discovered a passion for family medicine. During her residency, she further recognized the need for medical professionals who fully understand the communities they serve.
“When I got into residency, I was seeing my co-residents have a really hard time understanding what our patients are going through,” Dimas said. “They don’t know what it’s like to live in a food desert, they don’t know what it’s like to have to decide, am I going to pay my rent? Or am I going to buy this medication? Which one am I going to do?”
Her commitment to addressing community needs earned her a key role as Director of Healthcare Network’s new residency program.
“What that means is that we are training physicians, these are people who have graduated from medical school, they have to do three years of their specialty training in family medicine,” Dimas said.
“So, we will train them here, and I will be, as the program director, ultimately, the one responsible for their education and saying that they’re fit to go out into the community and practice medicine.”
The Healthcare Network was awarded $500,000 in grant funding for the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA).
Dimas said that she sees this as an opportunity not just to provide care but to inspire more physicians to serve communities like Immokalee.
“How many more patients can you touch when you teach other physicians, how to care for them how to care for underserved patients, why it’s important,” Dimas said.
For Dimas, it’s not just a professional choice; it’s a personal one. Her family still resides in Immokalee, friends from high school now work alongside her, and she cherishes the familiar small-town embrace.
“I have a very large extended family,” Dimas said. “Being able to kind of pave the way for them to see that you can do anything that you want. You really can.”
She added: “You don’t have to feel like, ‘I grew up in this small town and everyone thinks that it’s a terrible place to live.’ And that people from Immokalee are just farmworkers. That’s not true. That’s not the only story here.”
As Dimas forges a new path in her community, she hopes that the Family Medicine Residency Program will become a beacon of hope for Immokalee, ensuring that the community’s health and well-being are in the hands of one of its own.
“This has always been my dream, to be able to bring better access to care and quality care into my community,” said Dimas. “So being able to lead this program does that. It really brings my story full circle, and I love things that come full circle, right?”
“This is what I was meant to do. It really does feel that way.”
Dimas believe the program will be an asset to all of Southwest Florida.
“It’s going to change the community,” Dimas said.
The residency program will be sponsored through Florida State University College of Medicine and will likely have future partnerships with Lee Health and NCH Healthcare System.
The first residence is scheduled to begin July of 2025 with the first set of first graduates expected in June of 2028.
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