by Joseph L. Sanchez, MD
In my patient’s smiling eyes, I was reminded of my “why.” There she sat, eager to talk about the cat on her shirt. With childlike wonder, the 37-year-old woman before me, wheelchair bound from cerebral palsy, was ready for her hour-long appointment to coordinate her complex medical care, and I finally had the opportunity to partake in patient care that breathes life into my soul.
After months of grueling inpatient hours, long call nights without sleep, I found myself on an outpatient rotation I had yearned to experience. The University of Utah’s HOME Program serves a niche underserved population, as a mostly all-encompassing collaborative practice for patients with special needs, developmental or physical disabilities, or abilities limited by mental health, staffed by a multidisciplinary team including social workers, occupational therapists, and physicians. This collaborative practice model is something my young physician brain would have only dreamt could exist.
My older sister had many developmental and physical disabilities. Seeing how our family medicine physician coordinated her complex care drew me to this specialty. Medical school often taught the dire need of seeing people beyond an amalgamation of diseases, preaching it our duty to serve the underserved without a lot of guidance or infrastructure to navigate this treacherous modern medical landscape; yet having the opportunity to see vision in action gave me the second wind I needed. Truly, hope and action remain vibrant for an often forgotten and forsaken population. These people are seen as a whole, not as a societal burden to be shuffled aside.
As a family physician, I am thoroughly trained and prepared to tackle the needs of the special needs community. I chose this specialty to work with this population. The University of Utah has supplied an excellent training ground to hone my skills. The special needs community continues to live longer and longer; therefore, one must be equipped to address their care gaps. With this community, I am reminded of my truest self that chose medicine to serve. The road is long, and the hours are often thankless, but one smile is all it takes to keep me going, knowing I can make a lasting impact with my chosen family.
Dr. Joseph Sanchez’s medical interests include full spectrum care, outpatient palliative care, addressing gaps in care for medically fragile and special needs communities, LGBTQA+ affirmative care, and quality improvement. He enjoys hiking with his two dogs, cooking, baking, collecting board games, and reading modern philosophy. He chose the University of Utah because of its dedication to diversity and inclusion in the medical field and also for the institution’s approach to innovations in modern medicine.