Brian Ko ’19 DMSc couldn’t believe he was getting an Emmy.
“I thought it was a joke, all the way up until we walked the red carpet,” he said.
Ko and Kyle Vivo ’19 DMSc are physician assistants for the Los Angeles County Jail. In 2018, they had prominent roles in a film about the health care providers who work in the jail. That film, “Mission Possible: Social Justice Medicine Inside LA County Jail,” won a Los Angeles Area Emmy in 2019. They were invited to the awards ceremony.
“It definitely was a surprising and cool event,” Ko said.
But more important than the Emmy is how the film attracted more providers to work in the jail. “Since that video was released, we’re almost fully staffed to run the urgent care 24 hours [each day],” Ko said. “A lot of people wanted to join after they saw the video. It had a huge impact.”
Between the two of them, Vivo found the jail first. Some of his clinical rotations for school were on Skid Row, a neighborhood that includes one of the largest homeless populations in the U.S. He enjoyed working there with other students who shared a mindset of service.
“We were not going to Newport Beach or Beverly Hills,” he said. “We wanted to do health care where we were needed the most. We collaborated, and we had good outcomes.”
On Skid Row, Vivo met PAs who worked in the jail and they invited him to try a rotation there. In the end, he decided to make his career there.
After eight years in the military, Ko was working in the jail’s emergency room. There, he met Vivo, who invited him to work for him in urgent care. Ko agreed, thinking he would learn a lot from Vivo.
“Kyle said that if I helped him in the new urgent care that the jail was trying to create, he would train me on a lot of procedures. That sparked interest in me.
“Kyle is a great leader, and he definitely walks the walk. If he says he’ll do something and commits to something, then he sticks to that plan. He wanted me to continue working with him.”
In the jail, Vivo and Ko treat patients from all walks of life. Disgraced movie stars. Former rap moguls. Gang members. Drug addicts. “People you see on the news,” Vivo said.
Sometimes, their patients come because they’ve been injured in a fight with other inmates. Sometimes, they are suffering from chronic conditions. Other times, they don’t actually need medical attention, but are looking for any opportunity to get out of their cell for a few minutes. Regardless of the reason, the patients are treated with respect.
“We treat them with human dignity,” Vivo said. “How would you like to be treated in the most vulnerable, worst times of your life? Whether you’re guilty or not guilty, that’s not for me to decide.”
A doctorate for PAs
Vivo learned about the Lynchburg Doctor of Medical Science program online and jumped at the chance to further his education. Once he started taking classes, he encouraged Ko to follow suit.
They were on the DMSc track for advanced clinical practice, which hones medical, leadership, and research skills. Vivo said earning a doctoral degree was “the logical next step” for his career. “We’re supposed to be lifelong learners and always improve on our practices, and broaden our horizons.”
They both said a health law class was extremely beneficial, but the DMSc’s research opportunities helped them conduct studies that tie directly into their daily work. Ko studied a way of testing whether a jaw might be broken by asking the patient to bite a tongue depressor and try to break it. His results showed that if they can break it, then they don’t need an X-ray.
Vivo used his research time to develop a flowchart that guides a medical team to the best treatment for a patient who has swallowed something dangerous, based on the object they swallowed.
They both use their advanced training to teach other PAs and nurse practitioners who work with them.
“Since we’ve got really good training in the DMSc program, and the knowledge that we acquired there, we’re able to operate at the very top of our game,” Vivo said. He recommends the doctoral degree to any PA who wants to advance, personally and professionally.
“You can always broaden your horizon. If health care is a long term goal, then you should get one.”
The following interviews are excerpts from the film, “Mission Possible: Social Justice Medicine Inside LA County Jail.”