Dr. Mary Nell Ford

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Dr. Mary Nell Ford, physician at the Church Health Center

Who I am…

I’m Mary Nell Ford. Physician at the Church Health Center. I’m responsible for providing basic primary care for working, uninsured people.

Church Health Center patients are…

Our average patient is middle-aged, working class, employed either in the service industry or in the lower-skilled jobs, like factory jobs. Some of them are also more skilled, artists, even technicians, repairmen, clerical workers, who are pretty much united in not having health insurance, which is a much broader population than people realize in terms of education and outlook.

What led me here…

I graduated from medical school in 1992 and did my residency in Baltimore, Maryland. What I enjoyed the most was getting to know people over time and I particularly enjoyed taking care of lower-middle class people.

I put together a resume and a cover letter and I sent it out to about 75 clinics in the southeastern United States working with underserved patient populations, both urban and rural and the Church Health Center was one of them.

How faith plays a role in my life…

I’m a practicing Roman Catholic and as part of that, we’re called to care for the poor who are sick. I think over the years I’ve understood that my spirituality has a lot more to do with patient care than I would’ve realized.

In medical school and residency you think, “If I could just be smart enough and figure everything out, it will all be so easy.” And you get into practice and you realize that life is really hard and people really struggle and you’re part of that struggle and it can be emotionally taxing.

I define healthcare as…

That’s tough. Jesus said he came to give us life and life to the full. I think that God wants you to live a rich, full, meaningful, productive life. And good health helps you to do that. And life to the full may include chronic illness, but in that chronic illness, what does life in the full look like to you?

Change is hard. I would say we’re planting seeds.

One of Memphis’ greatest healthcare challenges is…

I think the challenges, again, come back to the culture we’re living in sedentary culture where people are eating the same foods and with along with the increase in calories of things that didn’t exist in the 1920s. And the just the challenges of urban life. People trying to cobble together a living with three jobs and trying to raise a family. So the unemployment piece of it in an urban setting.

But what Memphis’ healthcare is doing right is…

As far as the rewards in Memphis, I mean, Memphis is a great city full of wonderful, generous people. And it’s a great place.

The biggest challenge in my healthcare work…

We have a very fragmented health care system. This is not news to anyone.

I think in terms of the day to day, I think fighting against the culture. The culture that, I think, is not always respectful of health and the body and that life to the full model…

I would just label it under The Culture.

The greatest reward in my healthcare work…

As far as the rewards, I think I had realistic expectations in one area when I went into medicine and that was that the relationships that are formed over time are golden.

I think people save tremendous amounts of health care dollars by being in a relationship with an individual who knows them, and who knows what normal looks like for them.

Learn more about the Church Health Center

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