As Dr. Mark Ryan sees it, aspiring physicians have two paths ahead of them when they enter medical school.
One involves a good paycheck. There are plenty of good doctors who clock out at 5 and go home, he says. He took the other path — one that involves long hours and a conscience that keeps him always searching for an underserved community to help.
Splitting his time between teaching and practicing at Virginia Commonwealth University since 2007, Ryan also has directed the school's international, rural and urban outreach efforts. And when he isn't doing that, he practices pediatrics at VCU's Hayes E. Willis Health Center in the South Side and works with uninsured adults at CrossOver Healthcare Ministry.
He says all of the experiences inspired him to become involved in the push for the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act in 2009, and Ryan now serves on the National Physicians Alliance board of directors.
"When you look at how [medicine] interacts with health care," he says — "and the folks who don't have easy access and where the system fails them — it became very clear things have to be different."
Bouncing around between providing care as well as advocacy seems to come naturally to Ryan, who was born in the Dominican Republic to parents who worked for the U.S. government and moved constantly in his early life. He says the work has shown him that he's ready to call Richmond his home.
"I've lived in the same house now for seven years, which is a record by far," he says. "It's a little weird not to know we're going to be pulling up stakes and moving on."