About 2,200 miles away from his hometown and alma mater in Lexington, Ky., Paul Hennig, MD, is using his UK College of Medicine education to promote patient-centered health care for underserved communities.

Dr. Hennig is a physician with American Indian Health and Services in Santa Barbara, Calif. He treats patients from Native American tribes including the Chumash, Cherokee, Navajo and Choctaw. His clinic provides comprehensive medical, dental, behavioral, and vision care to the Native American population – regardless of insurance or financial state.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hennig is the medical director of a nonprofit that runs through the clinic providing free tattoo removal, which includes removal of visible gang-related tattoos that could inhibit job prospects. 

“I work with a population that unfortunately has experienced a lot of trauma and hardships,” Dr. Hennig said. “Kentucky doesn’t have a significant Native American population, so I have had the opportunity to learn a lot and grow culturally.”

Dr. Hennig said the experience has been enlightening. Through his work he has embedded himself in the community, has provided important medical care for patients and families, and has been involved in Native American ceremonies and cultural proceedings.

For Dr. Hennig, medicine was not always his dream. He earned a double major in English and Spanish at the University of Kentucky, followed by a master’s degree in Latin American International Development at the University of California-San Diego. His initial goal was to work in economic development for underserved populations.

During that time, he volunteered as a medical interpreter for Children of the Americas, a nonprofit based in Lexington. It was an experience that sparked his interest in medicine as a career. He took prerequisite courses at San Francisco State University before returning home to Lexington to train at the UK College of Medicine.

“For me, it was the right choice. I wasn’t ready for medical school at age 22,” Dr. Hennig said.

The timing worked. Through great education and mentorship during clinical rotations at UK, Dr. Hennig learned that medicine – particularly, family medicine – was his calling. He has now worked a fulfilling six years at the American Indian Health and Services clinic, and in that span, has served as physician, lab director, and medical director.

“I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” he said.

The UK College of Medicine is proud to share how Dr. Hennig carries out its mission of improving the health and wellness of the Commonwealth and beyond.

For more information about Dr. Hennig’s clinic, visit https://www.aihscorp.org/.