College of
Human
Medicine

A commitment to an underserved population

By Christopher Adams, MD Candidate 2014

As I traveled to North Carolina, Tennessee, and back to Michigan this summer, I realized that consistency and commitment is critical to relationships in underserved settings. The underserved, just like most people, want doctors that they recognize, remember, and know. This morning, I volunteered at Elmer A. Knopf Learning Center under the mentorship of such a doctor: Laura Carravallah, MD. Along with a handful of other medical students and residents, we performed 400 sports physicals on special needs students for participation in the Special Olympics.

Mentoring students in volunteering is only one of many ways that Dr. Carravallah is a medical leader in Flint. She is a role model to medical students and residents, exhibiting a commitment to the underserved of Flint, Michigan. She dug roots into this community during medical school and has worked in Flint as a doctor for more than two decades, with a medical focus on the underserved.

Dr. “C” as she introduces herself, is originally from Milford, Michigan, a rural blue-collar town southeast of Flint. One of the first of her family to go to college, she went to Michigan State University for undergraduate studies and medical school. She came to the Flint campus for her clinical rotations and soon developed an interest in the population. She felt like the people had “real problems” in Flint. She knew that Flint had grit, but she respected the people and held her judgment of her patients’ social ills.

She felt a familiarity here, of her own family and factory workers of her childhood. During her fourth year of medical school, she interviewed across the country, visiting prestigious residency programs in the Midwest, South, and Northeast. As an AOA member she could have trained anywhere in the country. She decided to stay in Flint at Hurley Medical Center for her residency training. She wanted a place she could sink her teeth into; a place that held opportunities to make a difference.

Dr. C was happy at Hurley where leaders listened about what she would like to see in the program and the community. While they might not agree, they would at least listen, which is all she asked for. After graduating from the combined medicine and pediatrics residency program at Hurley, she decided to re-commit herself to this area, focusing on academic medicine by teaching residents, medical students. She won multiple awards for her teaching in these areas. She currently teaches Medical Ethics to my classmates on a monthly basis. She became president of the Genesee County Medical Society. And the list goes on and on for all that she has done in the community.

To me, Dr. Carravallah holds something very special: the desire and capacity to care for underserved patients with a humility, openness and compassion that is rare. She demonstrates commitment to stay in Flint, despite offers in more comfortable cities. She works with strong principles rooted in the practicality of the work ahead.

As for me, and what my “Flint” will be, I have yet to discover. I am not yet sure which underserved community will be my soil in which to work and grow.

As someone who grew up in multiple places, I am not sure I have “landed” just yet. As I begin the interview trail this autumn, I hope to have a clarity and excitement for where I feel purposed to work and serve. No matter where it is, I hope to exhibit the same sort of humility, passion, and idealism that Dr. Carravallah carries here in Flint.