Coming Full Circle: From undergraduate to physician leader

More than ten years ago, Anne Jones ’04 had a very memorable toothache. Not because it was life-threatening or a long-term problem, but because it led her through the doors of Gannett Health Services as an undergraduate student. It was finals week during her junior year. Jones, at the time, was a young woman who didn’t know the difference between acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and she wasn’t sure which steps to take to make the pain subside. She was scared because she didn’t know why the pain was so bad. She remembers a kind, patient nurse at the health services center who immediately recognized her lack of understanding. The nurse wrote out a chart and schedule that explained what medications to take and when to take them. Soon after, Jones’s toothache was gone—long enough for her to take her final exams and return home to seek follow-up care with her dentist.

This experience has stayed with her forever.

Now, Jones comes to Cornell every day with a purpose similar to that of the nurse who helped her years ago: to heal, to understand, and to improve the quality of life of the student population she serves. Jones, who joined the health services team in 2013, works as a primary care physician and an assistant director of medical services.

“I was that student who was completely naïve, and now look at me: I’m a physician,” she says with a smile. “I had little glimpses of how wonderful it was inside Gannett, but I never really knew. When I came to work here I found everybody, the people inside, being generous and very loyal to Cornell, devoting their life’s work to health.”

Suited for a dual role

Jones’s role at health services is twofold. As a physician, she sees students and helps them through any health issues they might be having, and at an administrative level, she is responsible for making sure the medical service is running smoothly, has the best systems in place for students, and is communicating effectively across campus.

Jones describes university healthcare within the public health sector—it’s healthcare that touches individuals and the campus community at the same time. It’s challenging, she says, but Jones is dedicated to developing a campus health model that is entirely focused on the population it serves.

For Jones and her colleagues, working at health services is about serving others and contributing to something greater.

Health services works at different levels across campus to make Cornell a healthier place. To meet the healthcare needs of students, the health services center functions as a primary care medical office with lab, pharmacy, x-ray, physical therapy, and counseling services, among many others. Jones knows that students are very busy and dedicated to their coursework and activities. It’s important to help them feel well, mentally and physically, so they are ready to tackle challenges.

From a community perspective, health services hosts events and workshops around campus, bringing services to the places where students live and work. For example, Let’s Talk brings counselors to different locations for confidential sessions with students. Let’s Meditate gives members of the Cornell community the opportunity to relax, meditate, and reflect. Posters and educational series offer information about current health issues, like the flu. Campus partners, like resident advisors and professors, are often instrumental in identifying students in distress and helping them seek out counseling services.

“We are able to impact the individual when the individual walks through our doors. But we hope to make it possible for the individual to want to walk through our doors because of the way that we approach the community,” Jones says.

At an institutional level, health services has health promotion professionals who serve on taskforces and committees that are addressing campus-wide issues about health and wellness. Jones says this is the way Cornell can make big strides on addressing major issues like mental health, hazing, binge drinking, sexual assault, and violence. “These are all topics that we need to address,” she says. “In order for us to really help individuals, we also have to change the culture.”

So Jones constantly asks herself: What are we doing well and what can we do to improve?

The student population is growing and changing, it has new ways of communicating, and it has specific needs. Jones recognizes that Cornell must be nimble in the way it’s providing healthcare. Now, especially because a lot is changing in primary care across the country and around the world, it is the perfect time to move forward with integrative healthcare on campus.

In developing a new model, Jones reflects on how she came to embrace this leadership position. She recalls an old companion and public health worker: Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Yes, Dr. Quinn is a fictional character, but the way she shaped Jones’s professional aspirations is quite real.

Anne C. Jones, Medicine Woman

On the popular 1990s television drama, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Dr. Quinn, a strong woman and determined physician, leaves Boston to search for adventure in the Old West. She settles in Colorado Springs, Colorado and serves the community there while facing obstacles and healing its residents. Jones admires Dr. Quinn’s strength as a female physician and her insightful evaluation of healthcare issues that affected both individuals and the whole community in which she worked.

Just as Dr. Quinn was drawn to Colorado Springs, Jones was drawn to public health at Cornell. Population-focused healthcare is more than a career for Jones. It may sound clichéd, but serving the community, in part and as a whole, is what Jones was meant to do.

“...that's exactly the professional that I've strived to become.”

“Dr. Quinn was able to see individuals in a really special place,” Jones says. “When you’re in a room with a patient as a physician or clinician, you have a unique and important opportunity to talk with that individual about things that they might not feel comfortable talking to anybody else about. She had the honor and privilege of doing that. Then, she was able to see trends in what was plaguing the town at the time. She was able to pick up on things that she could take outside of the office and address from the community-wide point of view.”

Without hesitation, Jones finishes her thought: “And that’s exactly the professional that I’ve strived to become.”

A leader, a healer

Another entity that shaped Jones’s professional career (and even, it’s safe to say, her outlook on life) is very near and dear to her: Cornell. As an undergraduate, Jones was enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences and took pre-med courses while completing additional studies in the humanities. She was a leader then, too.

As president of the Cornell University Chorus, Jones spent time in Sage Chapel for rehearsals twice a week and administrative responsibilities a few hours a day. She remembers being inspired by the beauty and significance of Sage Chapel’s stained glass, mosaics, and inscriptions. For many Cornellians, campus places and spaces serve as a nostalgic reminder of where so much energy and soul was (or still is) dedicated.

Jones was also on the founding board of the Therapy Thru Music student organization, which is still active today. The group traveled to afterschool programs, children’s science programs, and nursing homes in the Ithaca area to introduce people to the healing aspects of music.

“I saw very quickly from a community point of view that music can be healing and musicians are healers in many ways. And even though at that time I was not somebody who could take a blood pressure or use a stethoscope . . . I could heal,” Jones reflects.

Jones says that her experience with Therapy Thru Music had been a part of why she wanted to become a physician, and specifically, the kind of physician she is today. She has always approached healthcare in a holistic—biological, social, and psychological—way, similar to how Cornell’s health services practices healthcare on campus.

What’s more is that Jones’s time as a student leader helped to pave the way for leadership roles in her future: “It was the involvement in student organizations, specifically the chorus, that helped me know that leadership was going to be a part of my future. It was challenging and rewarding and it helped me understand the nuances and intricacies of working with people, leading groups, and creating energy around change and innovation,” she explains.

Each day when Jones comes to Cornell as an employee, she looks around the campus with a new set of eyes.

“When I was a student and a student leader, I was that person on Ho Plaza handing out quarter cards saying ‘come to the concert tomorrow night’ or ‘are you interested in volunteering for this, this, and this activity.’ And now I walk across Ho Plaza and I see other students who are doing that, and I gladly engage with them about what they’re doing. It’s a little nostalgic for me to see that that spirit has not gone away. The Cornell entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well, and that drives so much of what is done. . . . It’s so much of what Cornell is about.”

And dedicated to serve

Cornell reinforced Jones’s desire not only to lead, but also to serve others. Even after graduation, she found determination within her heart and made it part of her life’s mission to serve those who were in need. Beginning in 2009, Jones volunteered as a physician with the Maine Migrant Health Program for two years. She and her group provided urgent and primary care to migrant farmworkers in rural Maine.

The way Jones describes her role in providing population-centered care is truly inspiring and thought provoking:

Jones also took an international service trip with Partners for Rural Health in the Dominican Republic in January 2010. The service trip included both individualized care and community education in several rural villages and towns.

“That was an experience that showed me that bringing the individual and the community together is absolutely how we can impact the future of healthcare. And that intersection is where I wanted to make my life’s work,” she says.

Participating in these service experiences opened Jones’s eyes and heart to the needs of unique populations; yet, there was more to see and learn before coming back to serve the Cornell community. Beginning in 2011, Jones worked as a VA quality scholar and physician fellow for a Veterans Administration Hospital. The veteran population is a group of people that Jones came to love and respect. She says it was a tremendous privilege and honor to work for veterans, hear their stories, and help to improve their quality of life whether they were facing chronic physical illnesses or emotional issues.

Now, an innovator in health services

After earning her degrees, residencies, and certifications, including a master’s degree in public health from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice; completing hundreds of hours in national and international service work; and working in several different professional positions, including health policy work at the federal government level, Jones was drawn home to the university (and community) that began her journey.

“The respect of your fellows is worth more than their applause.” —Willard Straight, Class of 1901

Looking back to her time as a student at Cornell, Jones says she was inspired by the university’s founding vision and the “little things” that make it the place it has become today.

As an undergraduate, Jones spent quite a bit of time in Willard Straight Hall’s Memorial Room. Here, a quote is inscribed that says: “The respect of your fellows is worth more than their applause.” These words come from a letter that Willard Straight, Class of 1901, wrote to his son. Jones says that this quote has always stayed with her in both her educational and professional careers: “A quote like that makes you think that actually, if we all focus on respecting each other and having active discourse about topics that we may disagree on, while coming to the table at slightly different places, we can learn, become much more fulfilled, and eventually create something that is better because of our conversations.”

Jones relates Willard Straight’s words to the work she’s doing at health services. She describes Gannett as a place where everyone comes together to serve students and deliver the best results possible. This is exactly the spirit that drew her to health services.

Not only that, Jones describes the innovation that’s happening at Cornell’s health services as reflective of the innovative spirit that the university has embodied since its founding.

In 2012, Gannett Health Services was awarded Primary Care Medical Home certification from the National Committee for Quality Assurance. It was one of the first university health services to achieve this national status. The certification recognizes Cornell health services as a model of primary care, Jones explains.

“What the certification does is empower practices to be innovative around the way they design their systems. It asks organizations to really take a look at the population. Rather than designing a clinic the way that you think every other clinic should be, you look at the people you’re trying to serve and then figure out what are the best ways to take care of them,” Jones says.

For Cornell health services, that means approaches such as offering appointments at the right times for students so they can get back to class, being culturally sensitive, providing high quality and efficient care, participating in professional development, and continuously seeking recertification and asking how to do better. Moving forward with a new and improved model of care is the most logical direction for health services now. Its choices are based on data it has collected, and its vision is to create a facility and integrated healthcare model that best serves the Cornell community at large.

As part of this new model of care, health services plans to open a new facility in 2017. Its design focuses on individual and community healthcare and it will, Jones says, spur even more possibilities to improve how health services are delivered. “To a certain extent,” she says, “right now we’re trying to innovate with 2015 healthcare in a 1950s building.” The new facility will be a vast improvement.

A key feature of the new building is a shared waiting space for all patients. Currently, there are separate entrances for primary care and Counseling and Psychological Services, which can immediately classify a student’s reason for coming to the facility. Jones is hopeful that the new space will reinforce a model of care that puts the student’s needs first the moment they walk through the door, including privacy, urgent care, a physical exam, counseling, or answers about insurance. Or, perhaps, students aren’t sure of what it is they need—and a staff member will be there to help.

Making Ezra and Andy proud

Cornell is a model for the world in many ways, from community engagement and international service to research and education. Jones hopes to add “primary care provider” to the list—a very specific goal, but it’s quite possible.

Because Jones started her journey to professionalism at Cornell, she brings a unique perspective to her job. She feels that one of the most important lessons she learned here was that it’s OK to disagree with someone, but it’s not OK to disrespect someone. She believes the key to moving the country and world forward is active discourse among varying opinions. This philosophy is central to Cornell’s founding values, and health services, she says, is carrying out what Ezra Cornell and A.D. White had in mind in 1865.

“Even though all of us here at health services come to the table with different letters behind our names, different training systems, different places where we grew up, different experiences because of where we trained—we all have those experiences to give to each other and help teach each other. That’s so much of how our health service is run and operated and so much a part of my personal value system,” Jones says.

A value system that was shaped here at Cornell. In turn, Jones embraces her personal values to help shape the healthcare system here and care for students that need her . . . even (or maybe especially) students who happen to have toothaches.