Free clinic medical director leaving

Published 8:53 pm Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Western Tidewater Free Clinic is seeking a new medical director as it prepares to say farewell to one who has strengthened the clinic in a number of ways.

Dr. April Foster has been medical director there for about a year and a half. However, her husband is in the U.S. Air Force, and he has been transferred to Hawaii. Foster’s last day at the clinic will be Feb. 10.

She said she will always look back fondly on her experience at the clinic.

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“It’s been a wonderful experience for me,” she said. “It’s a fantastic clinic with fantastic staff.”

Foster, a Florida native, attended Eastern Virginia Medical School, which has a partnership that provides interns and residents to see patients at the clinic. Foster participated in that program and then volunteered after her graduation. About seven months later, she was asked to take the medical director position in 2015.

She said she has treasured the opportunity to gain experience and help the patients who are most in need.

“You have to be able to figure out the social components to patient care,” she said. Patients at the clinic are between 18 and 64 and make less than twice the federal poverty level.

“You want to school to study how to practice medicine,” Foster said. While some primary care physicians aren’t much more than a “gatekeeper for referrals,” she added, the free clinic “just allows you to do a lot of medicine.”

Foster spent the majority of her time seeing patients at the clinic, but she also helped build close working relationships with local health networks and specialists who could see free clinic patients who needed more help.

She also helped implement an electronic medical records system at the clinic and worked hard to decrease emergency room usage by clinic patients.

“When it’s appropriate and when it’s good medicine, we try to keep them here,” she said. “We try to do a lot on site, so patients don’t have to always go out somewhere to get something done.”

Executive Director Chet Hart said Foster’s dedication has helped the clinic get on track to break a record this year. Patient visits are expected to top 18,000 — more than 1,500 more than last year.

While Foster, her husband and their two sons will be headed for Hawaii in a couple of months, the clinic doesn’t plan to slow down.

The job is posted on the clinic’s website, Hart said the clinic will be moving forward expeditiously on filling the position but will take great care with who it hires.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Hart said. “I hope that we find somebody who has very similar qualities and mindset as Dr. Foster who enjoys the public health type setting.”