Matt Bernard, M.D., chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, thought he was walking into a typical department meeting earlier this summer. But before the meeting even began, he realized something was different. In the meeting room, sitting among the usual suspects, Dr. Bernard noticed a few familiar faces from The Center Clinic, a volunteer-based health care clinic in nearby Dodge Center, Minnesota. For the past 20 years, Dr. Bernard has volunteered at the clinic, which provides free health care services to underinsured and uninsured patients.
"Our vice chair said, 'Before we get started, we have an announcement,'" Dr. Bernard tells us. He quickly realized the announcement was coming from his Center Clinic colleagues. "They came up and said they'd nominated me for this year's Minnesota Department of Health's "Rural Health Hero Award," and that I'd won," Dr. Bernard says. "It was quite a surprise."
The award, the Rochester Post Bulletin reports, is intended "to recognize individuals as well as medical teams that have made significant contributions to rural health care." And it's one that Dr. Bernard, in true hero fashion, tells us could have easily gone elsewhere. "It's nice to be recognized for the work that takes place at the Center Clinic, but the first thought that came to mind was, 'Man, there are so many other deserving people,'" he says.
Be that as it may, Jan Lueth, who with Dr. Bernard co-founded The Center Clinic 20 years ago, tells the P-B that she and others nominated Dr. Bernard for the award because he embodies everything the clinic stands for and tries to do for its patients and community. "He's pretty amazing, dedicated and unselfish with his time," she tells the paper. "We're really grateful for what he has done for the community. We know that if we ask him to help with something, he's going to do whatever he can," she says, adding, "I wish we had more Matt Bernards in the world."
Dr. Bernard tells us that serving as the clinic's medical director and volunteering there one day a week gives him an opportunity to stay connected to the roots of his medical motivations and interests. "Quite honestly, this is why I went into medicine — to help underserved patient populations in rural areas," he says.
And while "it's nice to be recognized for that effort," Dr. Bernard says there are many other "rural health heroes" out there who deserve just as much credit. "The biggest challenge we face is getting physicians to go out and serve patients in these rural and underserved places," he says. "And that's because it's hard work. When you're a physician in a rural area, you're oftentimes doing it all. And those family physicians -- the ones who are there day in and day out -- they're the real Rural Health Heroes to me."
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