National health service corps scholarship opens doors for a career in primary care.
“Being able to offer health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay has been a real honor and privilege. I feel responsible for providing care to as many people as I can,” says Justin Wheeler MD’05.
Having grown up in a rural Montana community in a family with limited resources, Wheeler knows firsthand the importance of having access to health care. “The opportunity to extend respect and honor to people through health care is really powerful, especially the ability to see people as people, not just as diseases, conditions, or problems, no matter where they come from.”
As a student in the Brown-Dartmouth Program, Wheeler spent his first two years of medical school at Dartmouth and the clinical years at Brown. At Dartmouth, Wheeler was inspired by a clinical skills instructor who had previously been a National Health Service Corps (NHSC) clinician. The NHSC is a federal government program administered by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration. The program supports clinicians committed to working in communities with inadequate access to care.
Working in community health centers in Providence that embraced the Corps’ spirit of providing health care to the underserved also influenced Wheeler’s career path.
“My time on the Family Medicine service at Pawtucket Memorial Hospital was transformational,” Wheeler says. “The hospital was located in a very low-income, very underserved area. Being at Memorial was my first experience in a community hospital where you could feel the mission across all departments. I distinctly remember the Family Medicine Service being unique in that we always evaluated patients in the emergency room and admitted them to the floor from the ED. It was so different from other components of my training and was instrumental in shaping my idea of comprehensive care for the underserved.”
After graduating from Brown in 2005, Wheeler headed to residency at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, where he worked at the Richmond clinic in southeast Portland.
As a first-generation college student, paying tuition was a main concern for Wheeler. He was already attracted to the NHSC, and he knew he wanted to pursue a career in underserved medicine. “I wanted to do what I loved, but I didn’t want to be mired in debt. The NHSC scholarship enabled me to afford pursuing work in a community health center setting.” Wheeler is one of over 9,600 clinicians serving in the NHSC Corps nationwide who are supported through the NHSC Corps Scholarship Program and NHSC Corps Loan Repayment Program.
“Heading out on this path as a guy from a rural background was scary, and the safety net and support of the NHSC Corps helped me be more confident in pursuing my goals,” he says. “It’s a privilege to be educated, trained, and connected to the mission of the NHSC.”
Clinica Family Health
Wheeler is currently vice president of clinical services at Clinica Family Health in Lafayette, CO. Clinica serves an urban population that is predominantly Spanish-speaking. The health center provides prenatal care and obstetrical care to women and children, and many of Clinica’s patients have chronic diseases, including mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and diabetes.
“Having witnessed the transformative power of health care firsthand as a kid, as a son, as a father, as an adult, and as a provider,” Wheeler says, “I firmly believe health care is a right, not a privilege. It’s a right that benefits people individually, benefits families, and benefits communities.”
To learn more about the NHSC Scholarship Program and how to apply, visit http://www.hrsa.gov/loanscholarships.