July 19, 2016

Why your doctor is a social entrepreneur

Physicians and clinics are on the front lines of their community's health and social needs

Photo from the Department of the Interior, August 1946

I sometimes quip I was a social entrepreneur before I knew what that was. It’s a joke, but there’s a kernel of truth there–my medical background (I’m an MD/MBA student) shapes how I view the challenge of “fostering healthy communities” in a way that poised me for service.

I’ve harnessed my background to create MedServe, a program we call a “Teach for America for health care.” MedServe is a two-year service learning program that matches recent college graduates with primary care clinics in medically underserved communities across North Carolina. Students get clinical exposure–for example as a medical assistant—they need for graduate school. They also spend part of their time in community health work–in the form of community health outreach–helping foster a passion for service. They specifically fill these roles at practices that are expert in engaging the local community and that can teach them best practices for community health and service.

So how is it that doctors and clinics often find themselves filling local social needs?

1. They have front-row seats to community needs

There are few more intimate relationships than that between doctor and patient. Doctors hear not just about symptoms and ailments, but about unsafe neighborhoods, food deserts, and other barriers to patient health. Take Brian Harris, CEO of MedServe practice Rural Health Group. You’ll find him at almost every community meeting in the counties his clinics cover. There he voices the community issues his doctors see and gathers more information from community members to take back to his doctors.

2. They hold positions of privilege and authority in a community

There are a limited number of people in the world with medical training. That affords doctors a certain position of privilege and responsibility within a community. That responsibility is literally interpreted by health-care professionals like William Massengill, CEO of MedServe clinic Benson Area Medical Center and mayor of Benson, North Carolina. But it is felt by every doctor asked to help on a plane, at a sports match, or riding public transportation.

3. Medicine requires its members to be called to good

Every young physician takes a set of promises known as the Hippocratic Oath that calls upon doctors to serve their community and foster respect for human life. Our MedServe clinics engage in local issues revolving around housing and homelessness, food quality, and worker conditions. Given all we that know about socioeconomic and community factors impacting health, how can modern doctors truly do their job and not get involved in social impact work?

Anne Steptoe

Co-founder of MedServe

Anne Steptoe is a budding primary care doctor determined to redefine the narrative of primary care. She is the Program Director and co-founder of MedServe, a nonprofit that matches, trains, and supports recent college graduates to conduct community health work in primary care clinics in medically underserved communities. Having spent time researching workforce development and developing Americorps programming for existing nonprofits, Steptoe is utilizing her work experience in implementing a service year model to help solve sticky problems in health care.