Marce Abare moved to New York right after college and worked as a health educator at a free clinic for teenagers. She listened to the young men and women talk of high school-related angst and stress, the latest musical sensation and, of course, health choices such as decisions to get an HIV test and use a condom—or not. “Each day in the clinic I felt that I was taking part in something intense, something meaningful,” Abare says. “In discussions with a teenager about decisions related to her body, I discovered I was most effective when I did more listening than talking.” Through the teens’ stories, she learned how cultural and social ills could influence individual health and self image. A 16-year-old moving to a new school and home in an impoverished area, for example, could lead to a dramatic shift in disease exposure and behavior. Abare’s experiences with public health and the pursuit of her medical degree are dotted with such discoveries, big and small. She learned in Cambodia that boxer shorts can double as a sieve to filter drinking water, that patients with chronic disease appreciate a clinician’s willingness to discuss the experience of living with the illness, and that changing or improving health behaviors—especially in different cultures—is not as simple as delivering information. Abare hopes to discover ways to contribute to public health initiatives that span cultures, languages and incomes, while ensuring that the ultimate goals stay in sight. A decade from now, Abare sees herself as a clinician-researcher in an urban, community health center, developing effective strategies to prevent heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses that plague our communities.
Primary Care Physician, Valley Homeless Healthcare Program; Director, Social and Global Health Pathway, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Internal Medicine Residency Program