Pa. Secretary of Health visits LECOM

The Honorable Eli Avila, M.D., J.D., Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health visited the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie on July 28. He toured the campus with Silvia Ferretti, D.O., LECOM Provost, Senior Vice President, and Dean of Academic Affairs. Dr. Avila spoke to first-year medical students about his career and answered their questions about medicine.

Eli Avila, M.D., J.D., Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, spoke to first year medical students at LECOM Erie on July 28.

Dr. Avila shared the story of his journey with the medical students and told them that they can achieve their goals. He said he was a Puerto Rican kid who grew up living in New York City public housing, but had a passion for education. Dr. Avila shared his educational and career path with the students. He became a physician, ophthalmologist, educator, attorney, and public health executive.

Dr. Avila was already trained in internal medicine, ophthalmology, and correctional medicine, and had been on the faculty at Columbia University when he decided to go to law school. He felt becoming a lawyer would enable him to speak out for physicians and patients. “I wanted to come back and make a difference in medicine,” he said. He attended St. John’s University School of Law at night while seeing his patients 50 to 60 hours per week. Dr. Avila finished eighth in his law school class.

Dr. Avila said as a lawyer he is able to convey the concerns of physicians and patients to lawmakers, judges and corporate executives. He’s worked on workers’ compensation cases and found time to receive his Master of Public Health degree. In his current position as Pennsylvania Health Secretary, Dr. Avila said he will look after the health and well-being of all Pennsylvanians.

“You’re at the beginning of your career in health care,” Dr. Avila told the students, who are in their first week of classes at LECOM. “There are many things that I’m sure many of you will do that will help society.” Dr. Avila told them to study hard and never lose sight of the fact that they are becoming physicians to help others. “Don’t forget why you’re here and what your calling is,” he said.

Silvia Ferretti, D.O., LECOM Provost, (right) talks about some of the historical medical items on display in the LECOM Learning Resource Center. Pictured with Dr. Ferretti are (L-R): Michael Visnosky, J.D., Chairman of the LECOM Board of Trustees, Neil Malady, Assistant to the Secretary of Health, and Eli Avila, M.D., J.D., Pennsylvania Secretary of Health.

Thomas Russo, a first-year medical student, said he enjoyed Dr. Avila’s speech. “I started off with butterflies in the stomach. It’s a very important person in front of us and it was like we were on the same level as him,” Russo said. “He made sure that we felt very comfortable and he made us all feel very motivated and ready to go and take on this year.”

First-year student Amber Hussain said she was also motivated by Dr. Avila’s talk. “He told us not to forget who you are,” she said. “Medical school is going to be a lot of hard work and it was good to know that he definitely understands and supports us.”

As Secretary of Health, Dr. Avila said he will challenge major health insurance companies to make sure physicians receive fair reimbursements, especially in the area of primary care. He said Pennsylvania needs qualified physicians in urban, suburban, and rural areas, and has to find ways to prevent them from leaving for more physician-friendly states.

Dr. Avila encouraged the students to express their concerns to lawmakers. He said it’s up to them to defend the medical profession and said physicians need to be proactive if they want to improve the system. “Get more politically involved,” he said. “You vote. You count. And you have your constituents – your patients. You have a voice. It will only come through legislative change.”

Eli Avila, M.D., J.D., Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, poses for a picture with first-year students at LECOM Erie.  Pictured (L-R): Christopher Silko, Zeb Cope, Thomas Russo, Dr. Avila, Hollan Harper, Michael Visnosky, J.D., LECOM Board of Trustees Chairman, Amber Hussein, Aaron Taylor, and Devin Borna.


July 29, 2011
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