As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Community Health Centers, we continue to shine a spotlight on those who have helped the movement. Our focus this week is Peter Simon, MD, or “Dr. Martes” (which is Spanish for “Dr. Tuesday) as his patients familiarly called him because of his once-a-week sessions at Providence Community Health Centers, in Providence, RI.
Dr. Simon, a now-retired pediatrician, spent 30 years acting as the back up to other physicians during the 4 to 8 pm shift on Tuesdays. He took on the job after serving as Medical Director of the Division of Community, Family Health and Equity at the Rhode Island Department of Health.
“When a dad or a mom called, usually after work, and their child had a problem that needed attention the same day, I was offered as an option if their primary provider was either fully booked or absent,” Simon said. He preferred prescribing chicken soup and rest over antibiotics, when possible, and resisted pressures to change care for reasons other than the patient’s medical condition. This stance also earned him the nickname “Dr. Chicken Soup.”
Dr. Simon reveled in “the rewards and challenges of practicing medicine cross-culturally,” learning patients’ stories, building trusting relationships, as well as the challenges of caring for children in families whose economic realities made it difficult for parents to take time off to care for a sick child.
“I guess that this complex relationship with the staff and families is what I will miss the most,” he said. “I will miss hearing the stories about where they came from, what was it was like for them to be in Providence now, what the kids liked and disliked about being here, rather than in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Nigeria, Russia, etc.”
Though he didn’t practice in a health center full time, the experience marked him for life, both personally and professionally. “These families helped keep me grounded in the work I was doing during the regular working hours at the Department of Health. I think it contributed to the design of our prevention programs for children, which have been recognized [mostly by knowledgeable folks outside of Rhode Island] as the highest-performing in the U.S.”
Read more of Dr. Simon’s reflections on 30 years working at health centers in his self-penned piece in Convergence RI.