“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 CAFP member Justin Wheeler.
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.”
Wheeler knew he wanted to attend a small, liberal arts college for his undergrad education. He chose St. Olaf, in Minnesota, because he was interested in medicine and, as a first-year student, he was able to do research right away. “St. Olaf has great research programs for work-study students, and I loved that the study abroad programs were robust and that the school had a large international student population.”
A connection to community health shaped Wheeler’s medical training. While at Brown, he had longitudinal rotations at a community health center in Providence, Rhode Island, and during his residency at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, he worked at the Richmond clinic in southeast Portland. These experiences motivated Wheeler to continue down a path of community health care.
In his first year of medical school at Brown, 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 (HRSA). The program builds healthier communities in urban, rural and frontier areas by supporting clinicians committed to working in communities with inadequate access to care, through the NHSC Corps Scholarship Program and NHSC Corps Loan Repayment Program.
As a first-generation college student, one of Wheeler’s main concerns was being able to afford tuition for the institutions to which he was accepted. 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.
“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. 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, Colorado. 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.”
The application cycle for the NHSC Scholarship Program opens in March. To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit http://www.hrsa.gov/loanscholarships.
Watch for a full profile on Dr. Wheeler in CAFP’s Summer 2016 magazine!