A Chat with Dr. Stephen Park: Bringing Healthcare to School Communities

Enhancing Youth Health: A Chat with Dr. Kelly Orringer, Co-Medical Director at the Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools
February 29, 2024
Ensuring the Health of Tomorrow’s Athletes: The Importance of General & Sports Physicals
April 15, 2024
Dr. Steve Park
Dr. Stephen Park, MD

In our chat with Dr. Stephen Park, Co-Medical Director at the Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools (RAHS), we not only learned more about his insights into healthcare and community engagement, but also got a glimpse beyond his work life. With a loving family consisting of his wife Kristin and their three accomplished adult children – Evan, Sara, and Chloe – Dr. Park paints a picture of a fulfilled family man. From Evan’s academic pursuits at the University of Chicago to Sara’s bustling life in Brooklyn as a project manager, and Chloe’s artistic endeavors in Ann Arbor, the Park family embodies diversity. Dr. Park also finds joy in simple pleasures – from meticulously planning travel adventures to pestering his wife while honing his photography skills, to nurturing a passion for cultivating native plants. It’s this blend of dedication, warmth, and zest for life that defines Dr. Park both in and out of the office and health centers, shaping his approach to healthcare and community engagement with a uniquely personal touch.

Q1: Can you share with us a lightbulb moment or experience during your tenure at RAHS that significantly shaped your approach to healthcare and community engagement?

I can recall so many of these experiences over the years, but one that comes to me at the moment occurred the first time I participated in an STI Blitz at Beecher High School with Mandy Lyon, NP. I remember being in a classroom watching Mandy try to make it through a presentation on reproductive health while the catcalls and jokes were flying, with one young man standing out to me as being especially vocal. Later, while I was monitoring the guys processing through the restroom where they left a urine sample that same young man approached me and said something to the effect of “You know, I wouldn’t ever do this thing without you guys showing us you’re willing to talk to us in that class and to help us to do the right thing by each other.” This experience, in addition to many others, has taught me that we need to meet patients where they are and in the context of their experiences in order for them to allow us to help them.

Q2: What inspired you to dedicate your career to promoting youth and adolescent health and wellness within school communities, and how has that motivation evolved over time?

I actually “tripped” into my involvement with RAHS, if I’m being honest. During my Chief Residency, I created a Community Health rotation for our Pediatric residents. I recruited fellows to go to a few RAHS sites to supervise the residents, but this fellowship ended, and Jennifer Salerno told me if I still wanted residents to come to RAHS sites, I’d need to be their preceptor, so I did. I think many of us come to school-based health intrigued, but not fully aware of what we’re getting into; that was absolutely the case for me! Obviously, I fell in love with the work and the patients and here I am in my 24th year (I think??), more dedicated than ever to what we do. My greatest passion now is to help spread access to healthcare for all school-aged youth and adolescents across our state to make certain every child has access to high-quality, readily available healthcare in their communities.

Q3: Could you discuss a particularly challenging project or initiative you’ve undertaken at RAHS, and how you navigated the obstacles for successful outcomes?

One of my biggest priorities as a RAHS Medical Director is to assure that we provide children with the highest quality of care possible. To that end, we aspire to having outstanding quality measure results, but there are many obstacles to reach these outcomes. The same barriers that make it difficult for our patients to establish and maintain care within the context of a medical home, with a primary care provider, interfere with our ability to make certain they have annual wellness visits, necessary immunizations, and coordinated asthma care, to name a few measures. I have always found that our staff in each school building are in the best position to advise us how to overcome these barriers, and they have created many novel approaches, such as Kearsley’s Pee-4-Pizza program, to help reach these goals. Continuous reconsideration of our approaches at both a local and programmatic level is essential to our success.

Q4: How do you see RAHS evolving in 5 years, 10 years, and beyond? What strategies do you believe will be essential for addressing the evolving health needs of youth and adolescents?

As I’ve alluded to above, I hope RAHS can continue to be a leader in our state toward a goal of getting school-based healthcare access to every school-aged child in Michigan. We have some partnerships across the state at the institutional level (Mid-Michigan, Sparrow, West Michigan) that could serve as a nexus for further expansion. We need to continue to work, under Mohamad Khraizat’s leadership, to make sure our infrastructure is strong, not only to better support our existing health centers, but to allow us to further expand to help more youth, families, and communities. I hope we can also develop a research program in RAHS to study school-based healthcare delivery and share best practices with other programs. Additionally, I would love to see us able to train tomorrow’s leaders in school-based health through regular rotations and internships.

Q5: In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing health disparities or challenges faced by students today, and how does RAHS work to mitigate them (or how should RAHS work to mitigate them)?

As we are well aware, the prevalence of mental health disease in our communities is at a crisis level. We see the direct impact of mental illness in our patients, but also the adverse childhood events they experience as a result of mental health disease in their families and communities. In my opinion, no other means of healthcare delivery is as well-positioned to address this crisis as school-based health, because we are at the intersection of patient and community, and we are accessible to not only the patient, but to their families, their school community, and to the other community-based agencies that can work together to help mitigate this via a holistic approach.

Through Dr. Park’s stories, it’s clear that his passion for healthcare and community engagement is genuine and unwavering, making a real difference in the lives of students at RAHS.