February 23, 2017

How a health care nonprofit is helping to reshape primary care

MedServe pairs recent grads with underserved communities in North Carolina

Misty Cox, seen with a patient, is a University of North Carolina class of 2016 graduate and a MedServe fellow. MedServe co-founder Anne Steptoe writes why its important to serve her community. Photo by Rob Holliday/MedServe


Meet the finalists for The Atlantic’s Renewal Awards, underwritten by Allstate. These individuals are the forces behind the 25 nonprofits competing for $100,000 in grant money. Five winners will be announced March 30 at The Renewal Summit in Washington, on TheAtlantic.com, and here, on The Renewal Project.

Anne Steptoe is the co-founder and Program Director for MedServe. What started as an idea on a napkin has turned into what co-founders call “the Teach for America for health care.”

The 29-year-old MD/MBA student is helping to reshape how we think about primary care. MedServe connects college graduates who have an interest in health care with communities that need support.

Meet Anne Steptoe and follow MedServe on Twitter (@MedServe_Staff).

This questionnaire has been edited for length and clarity.

Describe your community:

ANNE STEPTOE: We work with rural and other medically underserved communities in North Carolina, and with youth interested in health careers.

What inspired you to do this work?

I, and many on my team, are users of the problem we work to solve. We all struggled to connect our passion for community engagement with expectations for preparing to become doctors. We are driven by a desire to make it easier for other young people to connect with community service opportunities that also prepare them for health careers.

What ways are you helping to make your community thrive?

We serve our communities by operating a two-year community service fellowship in primary care clinics. Our principles of helping are by: unlocking the power of youth to bring a fresh perspective, and using apprenticeship as a community service model that empowers community members to lead change from within.

What do you love about your community?

Rural and other underserved communities, especially in North Carolina, can be portrayed as small-minded or inward-looking. We partner every day with communities of small size or few resources that are ready and willing to engage a young person in making their community stronger. Our community partners have often already begun that community change, and are proud to display it to and scale it with help from the next generation.

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?

I would want to share the diversity of our communities. People have clear pictures when they think of the “medically underserved” community–the rural farm town, the homeless community, and more. We have found medically underserved communities in almost every backyard in North Carolina–from our most affluent cities to our smallest, poorest towns. I would encourage outsiders to expand their portrait of where need exists, and to look carefully at their own backyards.

What leaders have inspired you?

We are always inspired by health care leaders who lead community change and renewal from that deep knowledge and not necessarily from positions of power. Take Florence Nightingale, who was “just a nurse” and considered “eccentrically opinionated” for a woman of the 19th century. Still, her front-line insights helped her revolutionize the health profession and how health care was delivered.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.