|Dr. Gustave at press conference to protest Medicaid cuts to HHC|
When Dr. Rick Gustave is asked what his most difficult patient case has been while working in the Lincoln Hospital Emergency Department, he does not mention the numerous trauma cases, heart attacks or gun shot wounds that make this one of the busiest hospital EDs in the country.
“Honestly, some of the most emotionally trying situations for me are when patients come in who have not been able to get their medications because they lost their Medicaid coverage or health insurance,” says Gustave, who is a second year resident physician at Lincoln. “It’s really a reminder of the failures of the healthcare system, and those failures are most evident right here in the emergency room.”
Although Gustave admits those situations he cannot quickly fix in the ED often make him feel helpless, his actions tell an entirely different story of a passionate young doctor who is already a community health advocate and is on a mission to be part of solutions beyond emergency room care.
"Dr. Gustave embodies the Lincoln philosophy of compassionate care for the community we are privileged to serve. In order to better serve, we have to understand the psycho-social factors that our patients are challenged with. We can make a great difference if we stay focused on the patient. Dr Gustave understands this," says Dr. Fernando Jara, Chair of Emergency Medicine at Lincoln.
Inspired by the World Health Organization’s definition of health as “a combination of mental, physical and social well being and not just the absence of disease,” Gustave pursued a Masters in Public Health from Columbia University after medical school, which he says solidified his passion for community health and social medicine.
“In med school I was getting the mental and physical, but not social part. I felt that in order to become a well rounded physician I needed that piece of education to have a broader public health perspective,” he says.
Gustave’s personal story coincidently begins in the halls of Lincoln Hospital, where he was born to a single mother of modest means and became one of many cousins who are the first American-born generation in this family from Haiti.
“My mother made it clear education was the key to success. She always pushed me to do more. And if I did well, she’d push me to do even better,” says Gustave.
Such motivation helped Gustave excel in academics from an early age and he was often selected to be part of enrichment programs and activities tailored for young leaders in the making.
“I haven’t had a summer off since I was in grade school,” says Gustave, who admits he’s never ventured far from his Bronx roots.
He attended Bronx High School of Science, graduated from a 7-year combined BS/MD degree from the Sophie Davis School of Biomedicine at City College and finished his MD degree at SUNY Downstate Medical School.
Gustave recently became Vice President of the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), the largest resident physician’s union in the country, and is a leader of the CIR’s Healthy Bronx Initiative, which brings community groups and healthcare professional together to promote structural changes that improve air quality, city planning, housing and jobs.
Last October he represented CIR at a press conference to protest Medicaid cuts to HHC where he eloquently articulated how HHC hospitals and health centers are the epicenter of healthy communities, not only keeping community members physically healthy, but also providing jobs and stimulating the economy in and around the hospital.
“Medicaid cuts wouldn’t produce the net financial benefits some politicians think they would; instead, they would affect working families, both physically and financially, at a time when they are most vulnerable,” says Gustave.
Gustave also was tapped to represent the CIR at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Conference where he found like-minded medical professionals committed to improving health outcomes and making healthcare more efficient. He came back energized from that conference and immediately after participated in his first HHC Breakthrough event and was pleased to learn that HHC has embraced this process improvement approach to find efficiencies and eliminate waste.
“After all, much of what frustrates patients and people who work in healthcare is how long things take to get done and how complex some processes are,” says Gustave.
Although Gustave always thought a pediatric or internal medicine practice would be most conducive to addressing the community concerns he’s so committed to, he has a new-found passion for emergency medicine.
“It really doesn’t get more primary than that first contact with people who are entering the healthcare system for the first time through the ED,” he says. “I love the people I care for and admire the people I work with. I’m learning so much here at Lincoln and know that I am getting training that is second to none.”
What’s next for this ambitious young doctor? First, the former 3-point champion at Downstate hopes to start a basketball league at Lincoln. And then, in about ten years, he intends to become New York City’s Health Commissioner.