Meet Your Provider: Patricia Kao, M.D.

Pediatricians have a big responsibility to the littlest members of our community: they help patients ages birth to 21 grow into healthy adults. For Zufall Health’s Patricia Kao, M.D., being a pediatrician also means helping young patients overcome barriers to care.

As the lead physician at Zufall’s Plainsboro site for the last year and, previously, a physician at our Somerville location for five years, Kao uses a person-centered, trauma-informed approach to improve her patients’ health. She sees many patients who have health issues linked to social factors like money, health insurance, income, transportation, language, housing, and food.

Kao considers it a special privilege to be able to provide primary care to this vulnerable group, noting: “Everyone deserves quality health care. I strongly believe that it is my duty and my honor as a provider to create a safe and caring environment for my patients.”

Recently, she cared for an infant whose mother had become malnourished during the difficult journey of emigrating to the U.S. Not able to receive sufficient nutrition from his mother’s breast milk, the baby was severely underweight, had motor skills delays, and was socially withdrawn. Once the baby was diagnosed with anemia and treated with iron, his health improved, Kao says. He became more socially engaged and trusting of his environment. He smiled and interacted with Kao.

It was more than just the iron that helped the baby, though. Kao and her Zufall colleagues connected his mother to medical and behavioral health services and food resources, identified early intervention resources for the baby’s developmental delays, and made sure that the iron medication was affordable for the family.

“I’m proud of the holistic, team approach here at Zufall,” she says. “With many services available in our agency, we can all work together to devise comprehensive treatment plans for our patients.”

Kao’s background in caring for patients like those at Zufall is extensive. She has enjoyed caring for children since her time as a camp counselor as a teenager, but her passion for serving vulnerable populations developed during her graduate education. While studying at Stanford University School of Medicine, Kao volunteered at a health center providing free services for people without health insurance. She also provided health care and education to low-income people in rural Honduras and Mexico, which helped her sharpen her Spanish language skills and understand the living conditions from which many Zufall patients come before moving to the U.S. While completing her pediatric residency at Boston Children’s/Boston Medical Center, she worked part-time at Dorchester House in Dorchester, MA, which provides comprehensive, integrated services to low-income people and families.

Today, Kao reflects: “I am inspired and humbled by the resilience of my patients. Despite the hardships that many experience, young people often have a fighting spirit to improve their condition and have fun along the way.”

Kao’s impressive credentials also include a bachelor’s in biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the completion of one year fellowship in developmental-behavioral pediatrics at University of California, San Diego, where she took care of patients with developmental disorders, autism, and ADHD. She is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics.

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