A career inspired by a 1970s TV show

Photo of Dr. Lucien Pediatrician Michael Lucien, who is known for his caring, culturally sensitive approach to patient care, decided to become a doctor after his own bouts with childhood illness.

The earliest childhood memories that people can recall often are of pleasant circumstances: that of a cherished toy, perhaps a family day at the beach, or a romp with friends. The earliest memory that Michael Lucien can recall is that of being forcibly held down on a medical examination table as a physician prepared to administer a lumbar puncture.

Lucien was only 2 years old at the time and was being tested for meningitis. He underwent three surgeries and survived two bouts of pneumonia related to various ailments during his toddler years. He came out of that with a resolve about what he wanted to become when he grew up — not a firefighter or police officer, but a doctor. He drew further inspiration from the early 1970s television series "Marcus Welby, M.D.," in which Robert Young and James Brolin starred as caring physicians in the pre-HMO era.

"I decided that I wanted to help take care of families by practicing preventive medicine," said Lucien, who in rapid succession obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology and an M.P.H. degree in epidemiology from UCLA before enrolling at the UC Davis School of Medicine, where he received his M.D. degree in 1992. After he completed his pediatric residency at the UC Davis Medical Center in 1995, he achieved his dream by becoming a physician with the UC Davis Medical Group.

A pediatrician willing to go to Africa

Along the way, Lucien (pronounced LOO-shen) developed an even stronger calling than he had felt as a child. A college roommate of his had conceived a nonprofit grassroots Christian organization — Medical Team Inc. — as a means through which to combine medical and missionary work in Africa and South America. Lucien joined the organization in 1993 after experiencing a revelation about himself and his career.

"I believe God was telling me, I don’t need just another pediatrician, I need one who is willing to go to Africa," Lucien said.

Through the Los Angeles-based organization, he has participated in numerous relief trips to Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Namibia and Brazil. Lucien is a member of the board of directors of The Medical Team Inc., and it’s a family activity for him as well. The group’s members include his wife, Darreis, and their children — Michael Jr., Rebekah and Elisabeth. Michael Lucien derives the most pride from his 20-year marriage to Darreis and the family they have raised.

The organization participates in medical, ministry and education activities, and offers assistance to government agencies on health care systems and policy development. He applies his international missionary experiences in his practice.

A dedication for bridging cultural understanding with medical practice

"The work I’ve done overseas has given me a broader perspective, and sharpened my understanding that we live in a world where many cultures collide when patients come to our hospital. Those divides can occur simply between our own medical culture and the patient, regardless of their ethnic background," he said. "Just because we have medical knowledge on our side doesn’t mean that’s convincing to the patient."

Lucien believes that potential problems are magnified by linguistic or cultural differences, and he says the medical community must respond.

Photo of Dr. Lucien with infant patient Lucien takes the time to comfort an infant and answer all of a new mother's questions during first well-baby visit.

"We must do a better job of understanding differences in ethnic backgrounds to make sure that we’re communicating well about medical conditions," he said.

As an example, he cites communication problems that can arise when informing Hmong parents that a cancerous tumor has been discovered in a child.

"They may see only the negative side effects of treating the child, and may be unable to get to the point of trusting us." As a result, he said, the parents may decline treatment for the child. "We need to revitalize the 'Marcus Welby' approach, to whatever degree we can."

Lucien sees patients in his office in the UC Davis Health System's Glassrock Building, which is located near the Medical Center. Board-certified in general pediatrics, he is the director of Pediatric Advanced Life support. In addition to teaching courses in pediatric advanced life support, he is a member of the Department of Pediatrics Intern Selection Committee.