They say “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” This phrase is very true for Arthur Fournier, MD, and Suzanne Fournier, DDS, a father and daughter healthcare duo who both joined the National Health Service Corps and found rewarding careers in providing care to those who need it most.
Arthur wanted to be a doctor since he was 4-years-old. His desire matured when his father died at age 40, leaving his mother widowed with six kids. He attended medical school in Massachusetts and then completed his residency in Florida. After seeing ads in medical journals, he joined the Corps in the early 1970s. He moved his young family to Virginia, where he served his commitment.
Growing up around her father’s healthcare career, Suzanne also knew she wanted to help people. When her baby teeth began falling out in the second grade, she was fascinated by it and even helped pull her classmates teeth. “I probably pulled about 60 teeth before graduating the 6th grade,” she recalled. Suzanne went to dental school in Michigan and similar to her father, completed her residency in Florida. She also knew she wanted to join the NHSC. “My father always said it influenced his career and I knew it would be a great way to serve the underserved population. The NHSC also helped me pay off all my student loans in 6 years.”
Both Arthur and Suzanne learned valuable skills during their time in the Corps. When Arthur started practicing, one of his first patients was a 12-year-old girl who fell off her bike. “While picking out the glass and metal from her palms, I realized being a doctor isn’t always about diagnosing a disease, it’s about what the patient needs – preventative care and service,” he said.
When Arthur moved his family back to Miami in the late 1970s, he focused on caring for the community health of the homeless, children and immigrants. He became involved in the AIDS epidemic and became a healthcare champion for the Haitian population the disease affected. He started a healthcare project in Haiti, traveling to the country numerous times, and sometimes Suzanne went too. As a dental student, she recognized oral congenital syphilis was prevalent, but not previously known, among Haitian children.
Suzanne is completing her service commitment to the NHSC at a dental clinic she located through the NHSC Jobs Center. She splits her time between its three locations. One site has a 90-percent Hispanic population, and she’s the only pediatric dentist who speaks Spanish in her area. She said her father always taught her to understand what each patient’s life is like “outside of clinical walls” and this advice serves her well. “The more respect and understanding you show for each patient, the more likely they are to follow your suggestions and keep coming back for care,” she said.
Arthur also learned valuable advice from Suzanne. “She elevated my understanding of the need for physicians and dentists to collaborate and not operate in individual ‘silos,’” he said. “I listened to her and we’re now providing dental care to 9,000 kids in Miami through a school health project.”
Arthur is very proud of Suzanne’s work and for following in his “NHSC footsteps.” The two have championed the program, and Suzanne will continue serving the underserved after her NHSC service commitment is over. “People are drawn to the Corps because they recognize the intrinsic value of working for the underserved,” she said.
“What’s also wonderful about the Corps is that it’s designed to address cultural issues,” Arthur said. “A health professional needs to understand a patient’s language, culture and history. Most of all, they need to bond with them and truly care about them.”