This post comes to us from our Kansas member and was written by Jessica Lindsey.
In her five years of practice at Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHK/SEC), Julie Stewart, M.D., has established herself as a healthcare pioneer and a vocal advocate for the people of Southeast Kansas.
Her passion to use her voice to tell her patient’s stories has drawn awareness to the many challenges being faced in the area.
“Rural Southeast Kansas has its nuances. It’s the poorest and least healthy region of the state,” Stewart said. “They are facing innumerable odds. They have generations of poverty, major companies leaving the area, huge things working against them.”
Stewart has been featured in state and local news, advocating for Medicaid expansion and describing what it’s like for those living in the coverage gap and relaying their stories.
“I’m not partial to any one way of providing care to people,” Stewart said. “There is much uncertainty with the new administration coming. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t truly achieve the goal of having access to healthcare for everyone. Neither party has all the answers. We have to work together.”
Serving the underserved and becoming a voice for the voiceless is something Stewart does, both naturally and purposefully.
“In my 40-year career, I have known hundreds of physicians but none like Julie Stewart,” said Krista Postai, CEO and a founder of CHC/SEK “She loves God and she loves His people. She understands that the mind, the heart and the body are one, and that true health is achieved by working in partnership with those she serves. This woman changes everything she touches, and she only looks forward to what else needs to be done.”
Stewart’s faith and her passion to serve God are central to her life, and the call to medicine and missions is one she felt early on.
“I came home from Vacation Bible School after second grade and told my mom I was going to be a missionary doctor in Africa one day,” recalled Stewart. “No one on either side of the family had ever been out of the country or obtained a doctoral degree. Twenty-five years later I made my first trip to Tenwek Hospital in Kenya as a doctor.”
There have been many other trips. She served in Kenya two other times, she lived in Honduras twice, and she served briefly in Moldova. In March 2016 Stewart, then Julie Griffin, married Caleb Stewart and the two went to Venezuela to work with missionary friends for their honeymoon. They have plans to visit the same friends who are now missionaries in Peru, and they hope to bring their little boy, due Feb. 2017, to the mission field one day.
Stewart was born in North Carolina and moved to Kansas with her family as a child. She grew up in the Kansas City area and after earning an undergraduate degree from Kansas State University in 2001, she lived in Honduras for six months, working with a physician on the mission field and returned to attend the University of Kansas School of Medicine in the fall 2002. She attended both the Wichita and Kansas City campuses, and after graduation in 2006 she completed a four-year combined residency program in internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Kentucky.
“I wanted to be open minded and learn how things are done in other places,” Stewart said of her choice to go out of state for residency. “I knew in my heart that I would come back to Kansas.”
As an undergrad, she began to consider rural medicine when she heard of the need for specialists in rural areas of Kansas. Her desire to work in the underserved areas of Kansas was confirmed when she accepted a position as a hospitalist in Parsons.
Stewart discovered her love for community health soon after, and it proved to be a perfect fit. CHC/SEK had just opened a clinic in Baxter Springs and Postai needed a doctor to get it up and running and support the APRNs.
“My first impression was that this was a person who was passionate about people and ensuring they had access to care,” Postai recalled. “This is a woman with boundless energy and excitement over everything she does and touches. She’s a lifelong learner with a commitment to population-based health care and the firm belief that everyone is entitled to quality healthcare regardless of their economic status or where they reside.”
As CHC/SEK prepared to open a clinic in Coffeyville a short time later, Stewart was the obvious choice to get it started, splitting her time between both offices before handing over the reins to Baxter Springs.
“I’m a builder of things,” Stewart described. “I love to make order out of chaos, to get programs started, guide and train others, then turn it over to them. I’d say I have a pio-neering spirit and I love to look at a team and say, ‘we can do this, even if it hasn’t been done before.’ There are people who need us and we’re going to press ahead.”
While overseeing the clinic and two school-based health centers in Montgomery County, she also served as mission’s pastor of her church. The combination of these experiences led to her pursuing and obtaining a Master of Public Health through the University of Kansas School of Medicine–Wichita.
As demand increased at the CHC/SEK clinic in Pittsburg, Stewart was asked to shift her efforts once again. She now provides inpatient and outpatient care to the most chronically ill patients, and she is heading the development of a Medication-Assisted Addiction Treatment program as well as a Hepatitis-C clinic.
“There aren’t enough resources to address opiate and alcohol addiction,” Stewart said. “We operate as a day center, then if we need to refer to inpatient, we do. This program is for anyone who has an addiction and wants to move past it. We have peer support, group support, physicians, and therapists. It is a comprehensive program.”
CHC/SEK serves more than 40,000 children and adults annually between its 11 clinics, and Stewart and her colleagues not only see patients on site, in hospitals and nursing homes, but also at the patient’s own home if that’s what it takes.
“With any program that we develop, we’re looking to target people who don’t have access to care or don’t realize that they need care,” Stewart said. “We want to reach everyone. God created each person with a very specific plan and purpose, and we place a high value on life and helping each individual achieve their individual purpose.”
Dr. Julie Stewart