Friday, July 29, 2011

Building healthier communities

Caring for the underserved: Front row, Weil, left, and Clayton. Back row, from left, Ferguson, Hood and O'Connell

To expand access to health care for patients in underserved urban and rural areas, the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) awards scholarships and loan repayment plans to clinicians in exchange for at least two years of service in an area of need. On July 14, a networking event, “Community Connections,” was held to bring together MGH staff, local NHSC clinicians, Harvard Medical School (HMS) students, Stoeckle Center scholars and community resources. The event, which was held in the O’Keeffe Auditorium, was sponsored by the John D. Stoeckle Center for Primary Care Innovation, Partners HealthCare, the HMS Center for Primary Care, Primary Care Progress and the Massachusetts Area Health Education Center Network.

During “Community Connections,” NHSC alumni told attendees about their current jobs and the role NHSC played in influencing their career decisions. Jim O’Connell, MD, an MGH physician who co-founded the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program in 1985, was the featured speaker. After finishing his residency at the MGH, O’Connell went to work at the Pine Street Inn, Boston’s largest homeless shelter, as an NHSC scholar. There he learned the skills needed to care for homeless populations.

The program also featured a panel, “Life in the NHSC and Primary Health Care Perspectives,” moderated by Eric Weil, MD, MGPO associate medical director for Primary Care and associate chief of Clinical Affairs for the MGH General Medicine Unit. The panelists were Warren Ferguson, MD, a family medicine practitioner in Worcester; Greg Hood, NP, of the Lynn Community Health Center; and Lacy Clayton, NP, an NHSC mental health clinician in Worcester. Each discussed how NHSC influenced their careers. Hood, for example, shared how his experience highlighted the need to listen to his patients and explained that he lived by the motto, “People don’t care how much you know until they know you care.”

Following the program, participants moved to a reception in the Bulfinch Tent. In addition to the sponsoring organizations, other local groups hosting information tables included the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Primary Care Office and the State Offices of Rural Health.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the NHSC has received an additional $300 million, which has tripled its budget and vastly increased the number of awards it is able to give. For more information about NHSC’s scholarship and loan repayment programs, visit

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