From California to Custer

By Jacy Glazier


Dr. Kelly Phommahaxay was born and raised in San Diego where she grew up along the beach. She then attended the University of California Riverside for her undergrad and the University of California Los Angeles for medical school and would describe herself as a Southern California gal through and through — until it was time for her residency.
“I didn’t go too far until residency came and I ended up in Duluth, Minn., which was a huge change. It was a fun time and I think that’s what really opened up my eyes to the Midwest,” Dr. Phommahaxay said. “California is great and I do love it, but there are seasons here and it’s a whole other world for me. Being around other people you are like, ‘Wow, these people are nice, they don’t just ignore you!’ I lived in LA for med school where you can live there for years and still not know your neighbors.”
Dr. Phommahaxay said being a child of immigrants and seeing how her parents interacted with doctors is what really led her to her career path.
“Sometimes patients don’t speak English well and it makes them more difficult which leads them to not being taken care of very well. Plus, Southeast Asians don’t trust doctors — it’s not a thing, but when my mom finally found the right one, she loved her and she made my mom feel great which was huge for me because my parents hated going to doctors,” she said. “Being on that side of medicine with my parents really showed me that you can make a big difference for people because after that my parents started taking their health more seriously.”
Custer Regional Hospital is her first job out of residency, and she said a big part of why she came here was because of Dr. Nathan Chappelle.
“We worked together very closely, and sadly he will be leaving, but he told me that this was a great place to come because it’s a great community and the medicine is good because we were trained to be full scope and this is where you do full scope,” said Dr. Phommahaxay.
In her first year with Regional Health, she hopes to get herself established and really become a sustainable family medicine physician for the people of Custer.
“I chose family medicine because I can follow them throughout their lives. Even in my residency, I would see children up to their grandparents and it was cute because they would update me on their lives,” she said. “That is what I think is really the beautiful picture of family medicine because you can follow them literally cradle to grave and that’s what I appreciate about it. I think to be a really good doctor you have to really know your patients and not just medically.”
Although Dr. Phommahaxay doesn’t specialize in anything specific, she does like treating children and has somewhat of a passion for dermatology.
“There are a lot of people with self-confidence problems like acne. I went through that as an adult where I had huge breakouts when I was in medical school and it was a downer. My mood was low, and you’re just embarrassed and very self-conscious. I learned how easy it could be treated and that you don’t have to live like this, so I’ve become kind of passionate about it,” she said.
Dr. Phommahaxay is really excited about the new hospital in Custer, too, and thinks the new building will be great for patient care because it is set up for efficiency.
“Any clinic can be as nice as you want, big and brand new, but if you aren’t set up to be efficient and also to have the needs of the patients met you are never going to make it because they won’t come back!”
In her free time, Dr. Phommahaxay enjoys exercising and getting outdoors whenever she can.
“I actually really enjoy exercising — it’s one of my things. I feel like as a physician if I am telling people to do things I should be able to live that life too. I also like to rock climb! I’m used to indoor but living out here I am gonna try and get into outdoor, and I might try to get into paddle boarding and archery, too,” she said.
And for those of you wondering if the bitter South Dakota cold is too much for the native Californian, she said she is very much enjoying the weather in Custer.