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Doctor Daisy Eng is a woman of small stature. But do not let her size fool you.

The Eureka Community Health Center health care provider is a member of a the National Health Service Corps, which is made up of medial professionals who are serving their county through disaster relief and working in undeserved areas.

Eng, a petite woman with a friendly but determined demeanor, has served during Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ivan and more recently, the California wildfires.

”I wanted to provide health care where I'm needed and also help respond to disasters,” Eng said about signing up for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program that allows medical, dental and mental health providers to receives scholarships and repay their loans through service. She has been serving a total of 11 years, and will server three more before her debt is repaid.

The corps has members throughout the Open Door Community Health Centers, which includes the Eureka site Eng works in, and other community health clinics such as the United Indian Health Services' Potatwat Village.

Last month, the corps received a $193,000 grant to improve its recruitment and retention of culturally competent, community-oriented health professionals in California's community clinics and health centers.

”What they're trying to do is rebuild primary care,” Open Door's CEO Herrmann Spetzler said. With more and more providers choosing to go into more lucrative specialty fields, primary care is facing a shortage of medical providers, Spetzler said.

According to the NHSC Web site, there are more than 9,000 job vacancies nationwide just for the corps. NHSC currently has 3,800 clinicians in service.

Spetzler said this latest grant will encourage the “largest expansion ever” for the program.

”The purpose of this expansion is to look at the work force issues that is facing the county as a whole,” he said. “Medical school is such an expensive endeavor ... very often the tendency is to move the direction of a specialization.”

For Open Door, it means access to quality health care professionals. This year, the clinic is interviewing for two dentists, two pediatricians and three family practitioners to be a part of its 70-provider team.

”Many, many of the providers on the North Coast -- that's how they came,” Spetzler said. “From my standpoint, having a vibrant private practice primary care delivery system is really important to our area, and I'm very supportive of it.”

While some only serve their required term, others choose to remain longer.

Eng, who has been serving in Eureka for the last three and a half years, plans to be in the corps until she retires.

”It's a challenge because of the area being social-economic depressed, but that's what I signed up for,” she said. “The need is never ending, but you take one patient at a time.”

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or dtam@times-standard.com.