Dr. Joseph Joyner

The Kraft Center Fellows

At Partners HealthCare, our vision is to nurture the next generation of health care providers. Through the Kraft Center for Community Health, we are investing in some of the brightest young leaders who will be there to deliver high quality, affordable, community-based care today, tomorrow and for years to come.

A year and a half ago, the Kraft Center welcomed its inaugural class of program participants. Yet, in that short time, these 18 talented and compassionate physicians and nurses have demonstrated leadership and a dedication to providing the best health care possible for the low-income communities they have chosen to serve.

Over the next few months, we will be presenting a series of profiles designed to help our readers get to know some of our program participants a little bit better.

Meet Dr. Joyner

Joseph Joyner, by his own account, pretty much meandered into a career in medicine – winding his way through studies in economics and political science and a brief stint in the banking industry before finally finding his place working with Boston's poor and underserved.

"I took some pre-med classes in college, but it wasn't really what I had pictured," explained Dr. Joyner, who even at that time saw medicine through a lens of assisting those less fortunate.

He instead went on to earn a degree in Economics and International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, and then returned to his native Puerto Rico to work as a management associate at Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. But the young Dr. Joyner (to be) soon discovered that, while he had a great deal of interest in the financial and economic development of resource-limited countries, a career in banking somehow did not feel quite right to him.

So, he completed his pre-med coursework and enrolled at Boston University School of Medicine, which – through its association with Boston Medical Center – has a strong focus on providing care for the city's poorest and most vulnerable populations.

Getting Involved in the Community

While in medical school, Dr. Joyner sought out rotations at community-based practices such as Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester and the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. And when he "matched" at Massachusetts General Hospital for his residency in internal medicine, he chose to spend the next four years at the affiliated MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center, where he could work with an underserved and predominantly Spanish-speaking population, many of whom were native Puerto Ricans like himself.

"Joe really immersed himself in our health center early on," remembered Dr. Dean Xerras, MGH Chelsea's Medical Director. He added, "That's something that doesn't happen very often."

Indeed, the Kraft Fellowship in Community Health seemed perfectly designed to enable Dr. Joyner to continue the strong connections and good work that he had begun during his time at MGH Chelsea. Dr. Xerras, who by then had become a committed mentor, served as one of his recommenders to the program - and, in addition to singing Dr. Joyner's praises, he emphasized the health center's strong wish to serve as the young physician's clinical practice base throughout the two-year Kraft Center program.

Dr. Joyner and Dr. Xerras

Dr. Xerras and Dr. Joyner

Finding New Opportunities as a Kraft Fellow

For his part, Dr. Joyner saw the Kraft Fellowship as an opportunity to learn how to take his medical training and desire to be of service and bring about change that impacted more than just his individual patients. Now, almost a full year into the program, he is doing just that.

In addition to continuing to see patients at MGH Chelsea, Dr. Joyner is taking classes in cost accounting, health care management and statistics as part of the Masters of Public Health degree that he is pursuing at the Harvard School of Public Health, an option that the Kraft Fellowship offers for participants who have not earned this advanced degree already.

He is also working closely with Kraft Practitioner Dr. Joanna D'Afflitti, an internist at MGH Chelsea, to integrate screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment for substance abuse and depression into the health center's adult primary care services. The pair decided to take on this challenge as the goal of the "community health project" that is required by both Kraft Center programs. The hope, explained Dr. Joyner, is that the endeavor will ultimately be a first step towards creating a larger community partnership to tackle the issue of substance abuse – the number one problem identified during a recent Chelsea community assessment.

So far, Dr. Joyner said that he has especially enjoyed the camaraderie that has sprung up among the Kraft Fellows and the Kraft Practitioners and the peer learning that takes place between them at monthly and weekly Kraft Center events.


Becoming a “Quadruple Threat”

Yet, his mentor Dr. Xerras, who has watched Dr. Joyner grow from his first days as an intern, has been most excited to see the Kraft Fellowship help his young protégé begin to take his passion for health care and community health to the next level.

Dr. Xerras said that he views Dr. Joyner as having the capacity to become a leader not only in community health, but also in the research, education and clinical domains. He noted with a grin, "He will be a 'quadruple threat,' and I consider my job at risk!"

Right now, Dr. Joyner himself sees his path post-Kraft Fellowship as still being relatively wide open.

He knows that he wants clinical practice with patients from vulnerable backgrounds to remain at the center of his career, and he envisions himself also working to address their problems on a larger scale, perhaps through administrative or advocacy efforts or some combination of these two approaches.

In the meantime, he is looking to those around him who, like Dr. Xerras, have already forged careers that have enabled them to have a meaningful impact on the lives of others, as guides to the road ahead.

Reflecting on his role models, Dr. Joyner said, "I think to myself: 'This is the kind of doctor – the kind of person – I would like to be.'"

Read about Kraft Center Fellows Dr. Kate Hobbs-Knutson and Dr. Genevieve Daftary.

Topics: Community Partnerships, Scholarship, Diversity and Inclusion

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