An estimated 46 million Americans live in rural areas, but there is more to this number than population size, geographical location and type of environment. This also translates into lack of access to healthcare, which means that doctors who serve in rural areas, do more for the health of the community than simply practice medicine. The work is challenging, but to Madison Humerick, M.D., family medicine provider at Harpers Ferry Rural Health Clinic and assistant professor of Family Medicine in West Virginia University’s Eastern Campus, the gratification this practice provides is simply unmatched.
“One of the many rewards of rural medicine is that that you can make a difference not only to individuals, but to the entire community,” she said.
When Humerick decided to become a doctor, she knew this profession entails more than providing health care. She saw her education in the WVU School of Medicine, her training in the WVU Rural Family Medicine Residency Program, and her interest in culinary medicine, as means to closing the gap in health disparities and increasing accessibility to health care in rural West Virginia.
Meeting people where they are is key for Dr. Humerick’ s current street medicine work. The approach is simple, yet the process is multilayered and more complex. In partnership with a comprehensive team, the native of Charles Town, West Virginia, provides primary care services, substance use treatment, and on-site ultrasound guided lab draws to increase HIV and hepatitis C screening for underserved patients in Jefferson County.
“Family medicine and my current work providing street medicine was a natural fit for me because I’m from West Virginia and I’ve always felt the need to give back to my community,” Humerick said. “There is also a special place in my heart for patients suffering from addiction and serious mental illness. I have family members that suffer from alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder, and seeing providers and community members treating them with compassion and respect inspired me to bring that into my everyday work with the patients I serve.”
Explaining the inspiration behind her work, Humerick said that a West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute (WVCTSI) funded project planted the seed for her current boots on the ground approach. In 2018, Humerick received pilot grant funding from WVCTSI for her project, “The Food Pantry Nutrition Initiative.” The project aimed to assess the food environment of pantry clients, find barriers to eating healthy food, and implement tools to help improve food choices and increase comfort level with different cooking techniques and recipes. Humerick surveyed 179 clients at Jefferson County Community Ministries from August 2019 until February 2020, assessing demographic information, food security, food frequency, and cooking patterns. As a certified Culinary Medicine specialist, she was also offering monthly cooking classes to improve offerings to food pantry clients and meet their dietary needs. Then COVID-19 hit.
“In March 2020, COVID-19 brought multiple changes and issues that weren’t anticipated before,” she said. “The monthly cooking classes shut down and it was evident that the needs of these clients were beyond healthy nutrition. This time also coincided with the retirement of the physician working with the Jefferson County Community Ministries, so many of the clients were not getting medical care. In addition to that, an increasing number of clients faced housing insecurity, and issues related to mental illness and addiction skyrocketed.”
Against that backdrop, Humerick was asked by the Jefferson County Community Ministries to step in and provide medical care to their clients. She immediately agreed, went back to the data she had gathered from the “Food Pantry Initiative” survey and used this database as the foundation to the community and street medicine that she is currently involved with.
“It is truly inspiring to see the great job that Dr. Humerick is doing for rural West Virginians with her community and street medicine activities in Jefferson County,” said Gary Rankin, Ph.D., WVCTSI associate director and director of the Clinical and Translational Pilot Grants Program, and vice dean for Basic Sciences, professor and chair of Biomedical Sciences at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. “We are especially excited to learn that a grant from the WVCTSI planted a seed for her that grew into such impactful care for those who need it the most.”
Reflecting on her experience, Humerick explains the numerous barriers that delay medical care in rural West Virginia including workforce shortages, distance and transportation. Increasing funding for respite housing, prescriptions, wound care supplies, and expanded harm reduction services are also integral to making a change. Evidently, overcoming these substantial challenges requires a transformation of health and healthcare; something that Humerick is well aware of. Still, there are signs that her street medicine work is making a real difference, one day at a time.
“I’ve been doing street medicine every week since December 2022, and there was this woman who saw me making the rounds but never came to see me,” Humerick said. “Four months later, she came up to me and said ‘Are you that doctor that comes every week? I have a couple things going on that I need you to check.’ So, to see her decide to finally trust me was the most rewarding thing ever. It’s all about the little victories that keep me going.”
In addition to her work on the ground, Humerick’ s future plans involve building on her previous research work and seeking new partnerships. She credits WVCTSI with laying the groundwork and equipping her with research skills and resources especially with her background as a clinician.
“There are several research areas I’m interested in and looking forward to exploring,” she said. “Moving forward, I would love to partner with individuals across the state that are interested in conducting research spanning Hepatitis C and HIV screening and treatment, access to care and reducing ER visits and hospitalizations, treatment of substance use and mental health, and improvement of immunization rates.”
Leading a busy life at work doesn’t stop Humerick, a devoted mom of two, from spending quality time with her family and enjoying her hobbies.
“My family and I love being active and spending time outdoors, mostly playing tennis and soccer,” Humerick said. “We also enjoy working on DIY projects, so much so that we ended up opening a home décor business.”
Humerick’ s work delivering preventive and essential care out on the street has garnered national attention. She was recently highlighted in a PBS News Hour Special, “West Virginia doctors work to bridge healthcare gap in rural areas.”