Fellowship Series: Community Medicine – Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

By: Melissa See, MD, MPA

Community. At 15 years old, even before I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, or at least for a big chunk of it, I knew that whatever I spent my life doing, it would be serving the community. Fast forward 20 years, I just completed the Community Health Leadership Development (CHLD) Fellowship at Georgetown University.

Being raised in the predominately Mexican and Filipino Immigrant community of Panorama City, I learned early on, the power and strength that results when families come together for the greater good of the community. With just one action item on the agenda, to serve my community, this singular focus has guided me towards innumerable opportunities. Opportunities that can be highlighted, but not defined by, my educational milestones such as obtaining my Health Policy Master’s in New York City, Medical School and Family Medicine Residency in Salt Lake City, Utah; and finally completing a Community Medicine Fellowship in Washington, D.C.

Fellowship seemed like a necessary final step to achieve my educational goals. Completing a Community Medicine Fellowship in a city like Washington, D.C. allowed me to hone in on what parts of being a Family Physician excite me the most and develop community medicine skills that allow me to make the most impact. I confirmed that I like collaborating with community members and community-based organizations to inform the direction and development of initiatives aimed at addressing the needs of the community; in other words, meeting people where they are.

March on the U.S. Supreme Court to Block the Kavanaugh Nomination

Completing this Fellowship also pushed me in directions I didn’t think I was ready for or even capable of, such as teaching and precepting medical students and residents. I started out leading small groups of medical students in various aspects of their Pre-Clinical Curriculum such as Evidence-Based Medicine and Health Policy. By the end of the year, I developed and taught my own elective on Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) and Health Equity. I didn’t suddenly believe that I was now an expert in any particular given topic, but the Fellowship provided the support to spread my wings and the outlet needed to direct my passion behind certain issues towards teaching medical students and residents to be better equipped to address the diverse needs of patients.

Field trip to the Hirshhorn Museum with my 2nd Year Medical Students

Finally, this Fellowship not only often put me in the same room as innovative and well-respected health care leaders, but it also pulled out the chair and sat me at the table. It has also put me in direct and daily contact with Family Physicians who share similar goals of addressing SDOH and advocating for Health Equity.

Presenting my Food Culture Community Health Study at the STFM 51st Annual Spring Conference

As a result, the collective experiences and encounters I was provided during this dynamic Fellowship year has undoubtedly led me to my first job out of training as the Medical Director and full-time Family Physician of a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) located in Ward 7 of Washington D.C. Not only will I get to remain on the ground, working within and for the community, but I will also get to continue on as Assistant Professor of Clinical Family Medicine at Georgetown University. Not exactly what I dreamed up as a 15-year-old. Not even close, but much better.

D.C. Families Belong Together March with other Family Physicians  

Now before I go, I wanted to share some general advice that I picked up along the way and can be applied no matter where your academic and life pursuits take you.

Ask for the Sake of Asking: Even if you don’t have an exact question in mind or you aren’t very confident in asking or you aren’t even asking the right person. By simply asking, you are putting yourself out there. Out there to be conceived as someone interested in a particular issue, for someone to think of you and put you forward for when the right timing and opportunity should come along.

Be a Good Mentee: when I was a Family Medicine Intern at the University of Utah, I met with the Department Chair (at the time) Dr. Michael Magill. Dr. Magill had the kind of career I aspired to have. I told him all of the things I was interested in doing or learning more about. From that moment on, he would send me articles and books on my interests and sent me to meet with other potential mentors about my specific interests. To explore increasing Diversity and Health Equity in Medicine, he sent me to Dr. Ana Maria Lopez. She recently got me a spot in the 2018 NHMA-NHHF Hispanic Patient-Centered Health Research Mentorship Training Program. We are no longer at the same institution or even in the same state, but she still looks out for me! Be a good mentee!

That one time I ran into my mentor and American College of Physicians (ACP) President, Dr. Ana Maria Lopez, at the U.S. Capitol, advocating to secure funding for the National Health Service Corps. (NHSC) at the ACU Congressional Briefing.

Maintain a good Peer Network: No one knows your work and what you are truly passionate about more than your colleagues. If you’re lucky, your colleagues also become your friends who will not only advocate on your behalf when an opportunity should arise, but also provide you with that tough love when you need a push forward or be pulled back.

With Host Judy Woodruff and Georgetown Co Fellows getting a behind the scenes tour at PBS NewsHour led by Dr. Robins (Health & Media Fellow)

3-5 Year Plan: Whether it is a vision board, color-coded algorithm in your Passion Planner, or a list in your iPhone notes app, set up your 3-5 year plan. However you decide to do it, you just gotta do it. It will help you see where you’re at, and what it’s gonna take to get you where you wanna be in the intermediate future. Chances are by doing so, you’ll likely end up in an even more mind-blowing, pinch-me-I’m-dreaming, how-did-I-get-here position than what you vaguely sketched out. So get to it and see where life takes you!!!

Me at The Lincoln Memorial gazing off into the distance and wondering what else lies ahead, beyond the horizon.

Melissa V. See, MD, MPA, is the Medical Director and Family Physician at Unity East of the River Healthcare Center and is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Family Medicine at Georgetown University.


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