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HL20: Ellen Beck, MD—Giving Life to Hope in the Desert of the Underserved

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, December 13, 2012

In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Ellen Beck, MD.

This profile was published in the December, 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

 "Our students come in to medicine with passion and compassion. And programs like this keep those emotions alive."

Ellen Beck, MD, has long held the funny notion that healthcare should be a right, not a privilege just for those who can afford it. "I'm from Canada," the clinical professor in family medicine at UC San Diego Medical Center says with a laugh.

Years after participating in a Southern California conference on "humanizing medical education," she was offered a job as director of Medical Student Education for the Division of Family Medicine in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego, where she also would treat patients.

But once she arrived, she recalls, "I saw a desert of access to care for the underserved, and it was very troubling to me."

The area's safety-net program income thresholds left many uninsured patients falling through the cracks. Many of them had jobs, but made just a bit too much—the cutoff was 133% of the federal poverty level—to be eligible for government health programs, she says.

Many of her medical students saw the same thing. They came to her asking if they could provide free care to these underserved patients, arguing they both would benefit from the experience.

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