Building a Case for Health Equity

May 14, 2018 01:03 pm David Mitchell

A funny thing happened on the way to the theater. Brian Frank, M.D., of Milwaukie, Ore., decided to do something completely different with his life.

[headshot of Brian Frank, M.D.]

Frank earned an undergraduate degree in theater technology from Antioch College, but while studying in Yellow Springs, Ohio, he earned his emergency medical technician certificate so he could work for the small town's volunteer fire department.

"I was fascinated by what I learned in the EMT class," he said.

Still, Frank completed his degree and headed for Dublin, Ireland, to do building and design work for a theater festival.

"I quickly realized that although I enjoyed it, if I continued to do it as a career the enjoyment would be lost," he said. "It was a 9-to-5 union job. That's nothing to turn your nose up at, but it's not what I wanted to do."

Frank came back to the United States and worked as a paramedic, and later as an emergency room technician.

"One day a doctor said to me, 'Why don't you go to medical school? You clearly have a passion for this.'" Frank said. "I hadn't thought about it before."

Two days later, Frank enrolled in classes to help prepare him for medical school. He finished residency in 2011 at age 37.

"It's a continuing journey," he said. "Every step of the journey is important because it leads to the next step."

Frank said his circuitous route to medicine has helped him as a physician. He teaches students and residents as an assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University, and most of the patients in his federally qualified health center are covered by either Medicare or Medicaid.

"I spent years doing jobs just to pay bills," he said. "I was a carpenter. I worked in a metal shop as a welder. I was a grocery store clerk. I understand what it takes and how hard you have to work in a lot of jobs just to stay afloat. I see how my patients struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. I understand the types of jobs they have and what a struggle it is when you also have a chronic condition."

Frank is passionate about health equity and is working with Family Medicine for America's Health to address that issue. Specifically, the team is building a business case for health equity(fmahealth.wpengine.com) by showing the benefits -- such as fewer employees coming to work sick or missing work due to illness, and lower insurance costs -- that can be achieved when a community reduces the level of chronic and preventable health conditions related to health disparities.

"There is a return on investment," he said.