Hanvey helps communities and families in need

First-year medical student Blaire Hanvey was recently honored with the June C. Allcott Fellowship in Medicine and the Zollicoffer-Cross Community Health Fellowship.

Hanvey helps communities and families in need
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Blaire Hanvey, winner of the June C. Alcott Fellowship in Medicine and the Zollicoffer-Cross Community Health Fellowship, receives honors. Photo courtesy of Brian Strickland.

by Zach Read - zachary.read@unchealth.unc.edu

Blaire Hanvey never thought about becoming a doctor. After graduating from Carolina and working in the Alamance County school system, she assumed she’d spend her career educating children – and she would have loved that.

“Honestly, when I jumped into the classroom I thought I would be there forever,” says Hanvey, a first-year medical student at Carolina. “I thought I would retire as a teacher.”

Then, during her second year teaching kindergarten, her principal came to her with a project to lead. Hanvey was asked to start a committee that would focus on academic interventions for students who were struggling in the classroom but who hadn’t yet qualified for special education.  

“The task was overwhelming to me,” recalls Hanvey. “I was a second-year teacher on a staff of older adult teachers who had been in the business for a while, and I thought they would never listen to me, even if I had recommendations. But I jumped into it.”

I stayed with that family for nine months. I realized that I had to learn how to take care of them. We developed a connection and they embraced me. The experience prompted me to apply to medical school.

Hanvey and her team developed a cycle of assessing a student, collaborating to create an intervention, implementing the intervention, and evaluating the outcome by assessing the student again. They repeated the cycle for each student they identified.

“Through the process, I realized that I enjoyed working with students and loved working with families,” she says. “When our group met as a team, it wasn’t just psychologists and teachers and our principal. We had families present. And so I began thinking about my career and how I could embrace both of these interests – students and families.”

Hanvey began paying closer attention to the health of these students, wondering what conditions may be impacting them. During summer breaks she took a job as a pediatric home health aid in Greensboro. She remembers her first assignment: a 7-year-old with microcephaly. She walked into the apartment and saw that there was no family interaction with the boy. 

“It was a space I’d never been to,” she says. “My instinct was to turn and run. The carpet was wet because the ceiling was leaking, and the apartment complex didn’t care to fix the problem. There were cockroaches everywhere. The home was bare. But I stayed with that family for nine months. I realized that I had to learn how to take care of them. We developed a connection and they embraced me. The experience prompted me to apply to medical school.”

Hanvey arrived at Carolina as a first-year medical student in the fall of 2013, and she has carried the experiences of helping students and families with her. Since returning to Chapel Hill, she has joined Beyond Clinic Walls, formerly known as Mobile SHAC, a student organization that serves adult populations who have complex medical and/or social needs. As part of Beyond Clinic Walls, students from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, OT, PT, Pharmacy, Public Health, Social Work, and Speech-Language Pathology form interdisciplinary teams to help their clients understand their often complicated health needs and maintain contact with their health care providers.

Recently, Hanvey has worked with a client with a history of breast cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and even hip replacement.

“We go into her home once a month, assess her, talk with her family, and sometimes do activities that help her become more active,” says Hanvey. “Other times we may do a pill count, check her medications, consider whether she’s having side effects, and make a list of concerns for her doctor.”

Once we get here they remind us constantly that whether you’re working with intubated patients in the OR or you’re working in the primary care clinic, you have to learn how to build a relationship with patients and their families. Service is important regardless of what area of medicine you go into.

In late-February, Hanvey’s effort in Beyond Clinic Walls, and her plan to take the goals of the organization and implement them in a formalized pediatric program, earned her both the June C. Alcott Fellowship in Medicine and the Zollicoffer-Cross Community Health Fellowship. She's the first student in recent history to win both awards.

The Allcott Fellowship seeks to recognize a student that embodies the spirit of helping others. The Zollicoffer-Cross recognizes a student who has put together a service project, particularly for underserved populations or minority populations.

"Our project will represent the goals and ideals that Zollicoffer stood for,” says Hanvey.

During the first year of her program, Hanvey’s group will service 12 children who receive care at N.C. Children’s Hospital for a chronic illness. Participants will work in interdisciplinary teams of six students from the School of Pharmacy, the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, OT/PT, and the School of Education. Once a month they’ll go to the child’s home and interact not only with that child, but also with his or her parents and siblings.

Hanvey identifies three goals for the program. 

“First, we’ll promote health and well-being by finding safe play spaces in the community for them and providing family events for them,” she says.  “Our second goal is to identify the child’s needs and connect him or her to resources that meet those needs. And then our last goal is to make sure the families stay connected to the child’s provider. Some of our incentives are to provide free hospital parking and meal vouchers as long as they’re attending their appointments. We’re also willing to make phone calls for their families. We’re hoping eventually to branch into Spanish-speaking families and connect with programs on campus like SALSA or CAMPOS to amplify that goal and really help them reach providers that they might otherwise not be able to see between visits.”

Hanvey credits Carolina’s emphasis on community service with giving her the opportunity to pursue her interests in such a short time since arriving on campus.

“When they’re interviewing applicants, they look for students who are going to engage with their community,” she says. “But once we get here they remind us constantly that whether you’re working with intubated patients in the OR or you’re working in the primary care clinic, you have to learn how to build a relationship with patients and their families. Service is important regardless of what area of medicine you go into.”

Hanvey understands that challenges lie ahead -- her schedule is only going to get busier -- but her goal is to put together a program that flows and has good leadership so that, should she have to take a step back during her third or fourth years when she’s on rotations outside Chapel Hill, it will continue to run smoothly.

“We want to teach and mentor those who join us but also let go and watch other students come in and run it well,” she says.

With the help of fellow classmate Katie Weinel, the program will hold interest meetings in the spring. They plan to recruit graduate students from across schools at Carolina and put teams together from August to early September. If students are interested, they’re welcome to contact her.

“I’m excited to not only serve the children in this area but also to give our students an opportunity to serve and learn together in these interdisciplinary teams,” she says. “I think it’s something that’s lacking in traditional medical school curricula. So I’d encourage any student who’s interested to try it out.”

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