Explore UAB

By Kiara Harris

Primary Care Scholars Primary Care Scholars Drs. Natasha Mehra, David Heaner, and Bria Carrithers

Tinsley Harrison Internal Medicine resident and Primary Care Scholar, Dr. David Heaner, had just begun training at a new primary care clinic when a patient with multiple chronic conditions walked into the office.

The patient had seen several physicians at different institutions, but it was Dr. Heaner who changed her perspective. 

His desire to provide quality care to the patient was evident. At the conclusion of the visit, Heaner received an emotional response of gratitude, “I have never met a doctor who tries as hard and cares as much as you do,” the patient told him with tears of joy.

Bria CarrithersTinsley Harrison Internal Medicine Resident and Primary Care Scholar David Heaner, M.D.

Developing trusting, long-lasting relationships with patients is often the driving force that inspires many physicians to practice primary care.

Tinsley Harrison Internal Medicine Residents and 2022 Primary Care Scholars, Drs. David Heaner, Bria Carrithers, and Natasha Mehra are observing National Primary Care Week — a celebration that engages physicians-in-training, students across the health spectrum, and the public on the role of primary care in the health care system — by sharing their training experiences and vision for their future careers.

Dr. Heaner discovered his affinity for primary care early in his residency. “I chose to practice primary care because the primary care clinic was the area of medicine that I consistently looked forward to attending.”

Heaner explains that primary care enables physicians to provide the broadest range of health services to patients. “In my opinion, primary care provides the greatest interface with the public to help as many people as possible,” declares Heaner.

Bria CarrithersTinsley Harrison Internal Medicine Resident and Primary Care Scholar Bria Carrithers, M.D.

For Dr. Bria Carrithers, understanding the impact of the social determinants of health on underserved communities inspired her to become a primary care physician.

Carrithers explains that she grew up in a city where health resources were not prioritized, “I know firsthand how health inequity impacts communities as a whole,” Carrithers says.

Dr. Natasha Mehra says that continuity and the ability to build relationships with patients drew her to primary care. “My bond with patients would grow with each visit and that was more gratifying than other encounters,” Mehra explains.

It was trainees like Drs. Carrithers, Heaner, and Mehra who inspired Program Director Erin Snyder, M.D., Professor in the UAB Division of General Internal Medicine, to create the Primary Care Scholars Program.

The program became an extension of the Tinsley Harrison Internal Medicine Program’s long-standing primary care track in 2017. Program leaders wanted to identify, support, and cultivate residents who aspired to enter general internal medicine practices in the outpatient setting.

As a Scholar, trainees are exposed to high-performing primary care teams at UAB and throughout the community — a benefit Dr. Mehra explains helped her cement her decision to practice primary care. Additionally, they are taught how to connect with patients safely and compassionately.

Through the inspiration, leadership, and training provided by UAB doctors like Snyder, Chief of UAB Medicine Primary Care Dr. Stuart Cohen, and internist Dr. Mack Brown, the trainees have clear visions for their futures in medicine.

Mehra_ NatashaTinsley Harrison Internal Medicine Resident and Primary Care Scholar Natasha Mehra, M.D.

“I want to be the physician who works to provide change to the communities that suffer from lack of adequate care and give disadvantaged communities opportunities to lead healthy lives with evidence-based care,” says Dr. Carrithers.

“I can’t wait to be a primary care physician with my own panel of patients to follow over time,” Dr. Mehra says. She highlights how she values being able to help patients manage multiple health concerns between visits with specialists.

As for Dr. Heaner, “I aspire to serve as many people as I can both domestically and abroad.” Heaner continues, “I want to be known as the physician who knows a lot, but cares more!”

According to patients’ feedback, the trainees are well on their way to achieving their goals. Heaner’s grateful patient reached out to him to let him know that she had recently undergone an emergency surgery at another institution. Because of the compassion Dr. Heaner showed her, she not only wanted him to know what was going on, she requested that he come to visit her in recovery. Stories like this are the hallmark of primary care.

The personal relationships, the community impact, and the opportunity for positive change in health care delivery are all reasons to celebrate Primary Care Week. UAB wishes all our trainees success as they continue their primary care journeys.