--Ramy El-Diwany is co-founder of the Charm City Clinic in East Baltimore

Newswise — Ramy El-Diwany, a fifth-year M.D./Ph.D. student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has won a 2014 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Physician Professional Advisory Committee for his contributions to community health services.

A co-founder of the Charm City Clinic (CCC), a nonprofit health care program operated in part by Johns Hopkins medical students and faculty physicians, El-Diwany received the award April 8 presented by USPHS Cmdr. Frances Jensen, M.D., a Johns Hopkins medical school alumna and former Osler resident at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

“Ramy is an outstanding leader in an outstanding program, and this award not only recognizes his work, but also the value of our school's community-based public health efforts that serve the needs of East Baltimore residents, schools and other organizations,” says Roy Ziegelstein, M.D., vice dean for education at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Ramy is an example of the outstanding, caring and giving students we have here at Johns Hopkins and of the great work they do with their superb faculty mentors.”

“This award is a testament to the education provided by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and to the high caliber of its students,” notes USPHS Lt. Cmdr. Kimberly Smith. “We hope that this award will encourage other Johns Hopkins faculty and students to continue their strong work in public health.”

El-Diwany’s research focuses on the genetics of the immune response to chronic viral infections in humans, specifically hepatitis C virus and HIV, which disproportionally infect people from low-income settings. Once he completes his schooling, he wants to find a residency where he can pursue a career that has an impact on public health.

El-Diwany grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied molecular and cell biology and philosophy, volunteered to cuddle babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, and was a runner and team captain in the California 500 Mile American Indian Spiritual Marathon.

The CCC was formed by medical students in collaboration with Johns Hopkins medical school faculty in 2009. It was “designed to fill the large gap between the community and the front door of The Johns Hopkins Hospital,” says El-Diwany.

Specifically, El-Diwany says, the students recognized that community residents faced systemic barriers to care, many of them economic. “Many of those in need of care were eligible for Medicaid but were not signed up, because they lacked Social Security cards, birth certificates and other documents,” he says. “By offering help with documentation and the complex forms that need to be filled out, the student clinic workers help minimize the barriers and health care disparities.”

The clinic staff members also focus on health screenings and referrals to specialized programs, such as The Access Partnership (TAP) of Johns Hopkins Medicine, a project designed to improve access to effective, compassionate, evidence-based primary and specialty care for uninsured and underinsured patients with financial need residing in the community surrounding The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

With support from grants and partnerships with the Open Society Institute–Baltimore, the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Charitable Foundation, HealthCare Access Maryland, AmeriCorps and The Johns Hopkins University, the clinic has now had eight full-time staff members. The clinic has served 1,443 patients since opening its doors in March 2010.

For the first few years of the program, El-Diwany was a regular present during clinic hours, chaired board meetings, shaped the structure of the organization to be sustainable and volunteered as a medical student screener. More recently, he has transitioned to a more administrative role as a member of the Executive Board of Directors where, from a distance, he can make sure that the success of the clinic is sustainable and continues to replenish its leadership effectively, as students can often only commit to limited terms due to curricular clinical commitments.

El-Diwany says he is grateful for the recognition, but notes that the award also belongs to “so many other people who played equally vital roles” in the success of the clinic. He hopes that the CCC will continue to serve as a role model and platform for people interested in community-centered innovations to pursue their aspirations.

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