When Family Medicine Meets Public Health

April 4, 2024

Meet PGY-2 Family Medicine resident Dr. Sonia Richards and learn how her passion for both medicine and public health led her to serve underserved individuals through a partnership with local paramedics.

My first encounter with Northeast Georgia Medical Center was in 1997 when I came to Gainesville from Florida to teach nursing at Brenau University. During that year, I interacted with and supervised students within the South Patient Tower, as it was all we had back then. I never imagined that I would be back in Gainesville in this current role as a Family Medicine resident. I am so grateful for this opportunity and chapter in my life, extended to me by the Family Medicine residency program. During this time, I have had the opportunity to continue developing medical decision-making skills as I approach the end of my second year. My husband of 35 years and two adult children are my rock and constant support.

I have a deep passion for helping individuals or making things better in any way I can. I have been wired this way ever since I grew up as the firstborn with a mom who had cerebral palsy. Whatever it was, I am here to serve and to make use of opportunities to “do good.”

This chapter of my life has also opened new areas of interest, specifically in public health. Last year during my community medicine rotation, I was involved in the care of indigent individuals in the community with Paramedics Improving the Health of the Community (PITCH). It was an eye opener for me seeing how diligent these paramedics work to care for the disenfranchised in our society. An opportunity to make a difference has since evolved and just in time. 

For our Capstone Legacy Project, my team’s idea for a legacy project won, and we hopefully will be able to make an impact with PITCH. We proposed that the Family Medicine residency program create virtual visits for the indigent. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of telemedicine has increased access to care. By utilizing this technology, we can help to alleviate some of the demands placed on the paramedics having to locate patients and bring them into office visits; instead, they can be evaluated virtually. Paramedics are already trained individuals and can be our eyes and ears on the ground by assisting with routine vital signs, some examination and lab draws if needed. This would be an added benefit to the overall concept of providing services in the field, preventing unnecessary ED visits, saving the hospital system money, and providing essential primary care these individuals wouldn’t have otherwise received.  

We also proposed that the Epic system help us to establish a way to identify and follow these patients as they get the care that they deserve. I am overly excited to see our team develop this concept and enhance the care of a population that really needs to have these services and to help them regain their dignity. We are excited to begin the process with PITCH and other community partners who have already expressed interest in our project.

To learn more about our Family Medicine residency, visit ngmcgme.org/programs/family-medicine.