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Kirsten Dickins

Massachusetts General Hospital

Kirsten Dickins has always focused on service. She started her career as a social worker in an HIV clinic in Chicago, where she studied access to health care among populations historically underrepresented in medical research. But Dickins wanted to provide more comprehensive care, so she went back to school to become a nurse practitioner.

“I’m a big believer in the notion of primary care and that through the implementation of effective and acceptable primary care strategies that we do stand a better chance of addressing some very, very preventable adverse health outcome at a very primary level,” she said. 

Dickins wanted to couple her knowledge and experience as a social worker and her training as a nurse practitioner to better serve those in need — and for her, that meant people experiencing homelessness. 

“The homeless community is one that is highly, highly, highly stigmatized, and it’s a community that’s often misunderstood,” she said.

Dickins, now a postdoc research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, has studied the expansion of the Affordable Care Act.

She’s focused specifically on how policy-based changes affect the ways in which people are able to access or choose to use primary care, the emergency department, and urgent care.

“I’m a big believer in the notion of primary care and that through the implementation of effective and acceptable primary care strategies that we do stand a better chance of addressing some very, very preventable adverse health outcome at a very primary level.”

“In my dream world, the best-case scenario is the possibility that structural determinants [and] social determinants [of health] would be made more equal across groups,” she said. The goal: to see some of the biggest gaps in health care “start to shrink and eventually disappear.”

When Dickins isn’t taking care of patients or poring over her research, she loves venturing out for walks in Boston — and bringing her three dogs, all rescues, along for the adventure. 

—  Alexander Spinelli

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