April 12, 2022, 12:02 p.m. David Mitchell — Summer is coming, but your ideal vacation plans might differ from those of Ashley Rubin, D.O., M.S.
Rubin, 32, already has had her passport stamped in more than three dozen countries. Her favorite destination? A rural hospital in Kenya.
“I’d like to get back to the bush where I find a lot of joy in working with the local people,” said Rubin, who will complete her training in June at the Dignity Health Methodist Hospital Family Medicine Residency in Sacramento, Calif. “I feel like it’s not work when you really love it and it’s something that brings you a lot of joy.”
Rubin’s travels started at age 13, devoting her summer and winter breaks to volunteering to work on things like water and sanitation projects in foreign countries.
“I did that through college, and then earned my master’s degree in global health,” she said. “I actually didn’t go with family or anyone I knew. I went with groups that had established relationships so that we could provide continuity clinic, health education courses and fill in gaps where help was needed in each community”.
Generations of Rubin’s family have worked with the Salvation Army “all the way back to when it started in England” in the 1800s, she said.
“I think a lot of my experiences have been shaped and molded by watching my mom go to the scene of disasters — floods, earthquakes, hurricanes — instead of running away from them,” she said. “I grew up with that. When I was old enough, I asked if I could go. My mom helped me with car washes, bake sales and pretty much anything I could do to raise money to be able to go.”
Rubin’s mother volunteers with Salvation Army youth programs. Her grandmother worked in a program that provided meals for elderly people and people who were experiencing homelessness.
“They showed me that to be great leader, you have to be a good servant,” she said. “They were always serving others and always finding ways to help other people even though my family didn’t have much. They would give everything we had to help somebody else, and I think that that was probably the biggest driver in my life. They helped me realize that everything that we have is meant to be shared with the world.”
Rubin’s interest in health care was piqued during one of her first international trips when she fell ill in Jamaica. A physician in a local health clinic provided comfort and medication that helped her recover, but Rubin was struck by the doctor’s lack of the basic equipment that she would have expected to see at a doctor’s office back home in California.
“She didn’t have a stethoscope or even a thermometer,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I want to be a part of the change to help people have the things that they need to enhance their practice.” She showed me kindness and empathy, and she showed me a lot about what it meant to be a doctor. That made me really interested in health care and what that meant and what it looked like in different countries.”
Another pivotal teen moment was provided by a surgeon who allowed Rubin to observe her grandmother’s heart surgery. She was awed by the procedure and thrilled to see her grandmother when it was over. Rubin said she knew then that she wanted to be a physician but was uncertain about her specialty choice.
That became clear when Rubin spent three years prior to medical school as a research analyst and project manager at the Family and Community Medicine Department at the University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco General Hospital. There, Rubin witnessed family physicians caring for patients of all ages, providing inpatient, outpatient and obstetric care.
“I really was able to see the full breadth of family medicine,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is what I want. These are the kinds of things that I need to be able to do here and to go abroad.’”
After completing residency, Rubin will do a one-year obstetrics fellowship at Dignity in Sacramento. She helped write the grant proposal for her hospital, which received funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration, and she is now helping write the curriculum.
As a National Health Service Corps Scholar, she’ll practice in an underserved area when her training is complete.
“It’s pretty exciting to start a new program,” she said. “I’m doing the fellowship so that I can be fully confident and make sure I have my skills ready to be out in a more rural place by myself.”
On her most recent trip to her favorite rural hospital in Kenya, Rubin said there was no nurse or pharmacist working, so she checked patients in and saw them, drew blood, did lab work, wrote prescriptions and dispensed medications.
“I even learned to drive a motorcycle for community outreach in the mountainous villages,” she said. “It was a full experience, which is really great.”
Rubin said her multiracial heritage and diverse background have enhanced her medical practice.
“I believe that my travels have also exposed me to amazing food, people and culture, which have made me a better physician,” she said. “When I was younger, I traveled to see what I could do to help change things in the world. As I grew up, I realized that all of those things really helped change me and impacted me in a way that helps me provide better care for my patients.”
Rubin was one of 12 recipients last year of the AAFP Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education, which honors a select number of residents for their leadership, civic involvement, exemplary patient care and aptitude for and interest in family medicine. Applications for the 2022 awards are due May 9. Winners will receive a $1,000 scholarship, hotel accommodations, airfare and registration for the Family Medicine Experience, which is Sept. 20-23 in Washington, D.C.