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November 15, 2013

Meet our Medical Director: Ricardo Alvarez, MD

If you spend time with Dr. Ricardo Alvarez, you will no doubt notice his passion for serving others and his gratitude for being able to make a difference in people’s lives.  As medical director for Mission Neighborhood Health Center, he feels grateful to have the opportunity to shape a vision of health and healing in the community.

Dr. Alvarez’s interest in medicine started early.  In high school, he contemplated a career in medical ethics.  Influenced in part by his mother, a public health nurse who worked in challenging settings in the South Bronx, Harlem, and Brooklyn, he was drawn, while at Harvard University, to study medical sociology and to better understand healing on a societal level.   He continued his studies and earned his medical degree from the University of Connecticut.

After spending three years as a physician at John C. Freemont hospital in rural Mariposa County, Dr. Alvarez  joined Mission Neighborhood Health Center in 1993, as a UCSF-trained board-certified family practice physician to serve as medical director of Clinica Esperanza, MNHC’s comprehensive HIV services clinic. While in that role, he worked with his colleagues to deliver innovative, integrated, team-based care for patients and was a recipient of the HRSA Special Projects of National Significance grant to examine MNHC’s readiness model to support adherence to complex HIV medications.

In concert with the teachings of Howard Brody, MD, a pioneer in medical ethics, Dr. Alvarez ascribes to the theory that the narrative patients create about their lives and their illness can mobilize resiliencies, and frame perspectives of gratitude, growth and learning despite the challenges they face.   It informs his commitment to develop programs that contribute to quality clinical outcomes and enhance patients’ lives.  His team encourages the community and patients to create a narrative around their disease through art shows and mask making workshops for people living with HIV, salsa classes for patients with diabetes to encourage mobility, cooking classes to introduce healthy eating and belly cast workshops for prenatal patients.

In 2009, Dr. Alvarez transitioned into the role of MNHC medical director.  In this role, he works closely with senior management to further the vision of health and healing by ensuring that Mission Neighborhood Health Center continues to offer integrated, innovative quality care for all patients.   Among his current priorities is integrating an EHR system (electronic health record) at all MNHC sites and continuing to find qualified medical staff to serve the many patients in need.

Given his dedication to the MNHC community and continued dedication to the people of Mariposa County, where he continues to periodically see people living with HIV, as he has for the past 18 years, it’s no surprise that he was recently honored by the Mayor of San Francisco for “enriching the lives of San Franciscans by proving culturally sensitive medical services to the Health Center’s adult patients with care, compassion and respect and his dedication to clinical expertise, commitment to developing innovative therapeutic interventions and guidance in quality improvement initiatives.”

“ I was deeply humbled and honored by this recognition,” said Dr. Alvarez.  “One of the best things about working here is to work in a creative environment that has a shared vision of health and healing among colleagues.”  No doubt, the feeling is mutual among staff.

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