Where Medicine and Society Mix

Elyse LaFond, M15, secured a $30,000 grant for prenatal care services at Sharewood

Elyse LaFond at the Sharewood clinic

Elyse LaFond, M15, grew up in Falmouth, Maine, playing high school basketball, soccer and lacrosse. “Sports were always a big part of my life,” she says. LaFond was a good enough point guard to be recruited to play basketball at Emory University in Atlanta. “My approach to medical school and to basketball have been similar,” she points out. “I’m not naturally the fastest, the strongest or the smartest, but I’ve always found a way to get there through hard work.”

Sharewood, the free health-care clinic run by Tufts medical students and physicians since its inception in 1997, is now gaining from that attitude. LaFond recently won approval of a $30,000 grant proposal she submitted to Tufts Medical Center—budgeted at $10,000 a year for three years, pending annual review—to expand offerings at the facility, located at the First Church in Malden, Mass.

What kind of medicine are you drawn to?

I’m drawn to the places where medicine and society mix. I first became interested in medicine in a college anthropology class on health disparities. Soon after, I began working at the public AIDS clinic in Atlanta. I started doing research there as a junior and then took a year off after I graduated to run a few studies full time.

How did you first connect with Sharewood?

I didn’t know about Sharewood before I got to Tufts, but having the kind of background and interests I did, the concept of a free clinic for people who couldn’t afford health care appealed to me a lot. Sharewood is held on Tuesday evenings, so I went there on my second day of medical school. Because of my past experiences, I gravitated toward the women’s and sexual health division, where I eventually became coordinator.

Describe how the grant came about.

I learned about the grant from one of the residents teaching my physical diagnosis class. At the time I was attempting to recruit ob/gyn residents to come see our women’s health patients. She told me, “I can’t do it, but there’s this grant I just learned about, and it sounds like something you could maybe work into Sharewood.”

The grant comes from an organization called Parent to Parent, funded by Tufts Medical Center as part of its Community Health Improvement Programs. Its focus is on improving maternal and infant health in the Boston area among populations in need—very similar to the population that Sharewood serves.

I had never written a grant application before, so the process was a little intimidating. I wrote it over last summer. You have to lay everything out—your goals, the timeline, what you envision, the outcomes and how you’re going to measure them. It ended up being about 50 pages long.

What is your vision?

I had noticed that Sharewood was not as well equipped to provide care for pregnant women as we were to perform our other health services. I wanted pregnant women to be able to come to the clinic to receive not only free acute care and counseling but also assistance in entering long-term, sustainable prenatal care and enrollment in health insurance. It can be really intimidating for someone without insurance, and someone who’s newly pregnant, to figure out how to enter the health system.

How does the grant money help?

The money pays for the routine prenatal blood tests and STD testing that we run during the visit. It pays a liaison we have at Malden Family Medicine Center, just a few blocks away from Sharewood, who helps us successfully enroll women into permanent prenatal care with physicians there. We also provide patients with prenatal vitamins and give them an MBTA pass so they can get to and from the clinic in Malden. Finally, we used some of the money to run advertisements on subway cars around Boston to raise awareness about the program.

Has all this made a difference?

We’re just starting to see the first patients. It’s so exciting for Sharewood to be able to provide more comprehensive prenatal care. We hope it will help women overcome barriers to receive the health care they need and deserve.

To learn more about Sharewood, visit sharewood.tufts.edu.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Tufts Medicine magazine.

Bruce Morgan can be reached at bruce.morgan@tufts.edu.  

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