Free clinic gets new medical director

Published 12:14 pm Wednesday, September 23, 2015

By Tracy Agnew
Special to The Tidewater News

April Foster first felt called to the mission field during a trip to Haiti when she was 18.

She now works at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic as its medical director. Suffolk is far from the mission field in the eyes of the world, but through the eyes of a physician seeking to serve God, the two are one.

April Foster is the new medical director of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic. -- Tracy Agnew | Suffolk News-Herald

April Foster is the new medical director of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic. — Tracy Agnew | Suffolk News-Herald

“This is my Haiti,” said Foster, who started work as the new medical director about a month ago. “I am able to do what He’s asked me to do here in my backyard.”

The 33-year-old is a native of Sarasota, Florida, and did her undergraduate degree at Florida State University. She completed Master of Public Health and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degrees at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

But because her husband is in the U.S. Air Force and is stationed at Langley Air Force Base, she looked to Hampton Roads when it came to selecting a medical school. She landed on Eastern Virginia Medical School.

That’s how she first came into contact with the Western Tidewater Free Clinic. The clinic has a partnership with EVMS that provides interns and residents to see patients at the clinic as part of their training program under Dr. Terri Babineau. The program is funded by the Obici Healthcare Foundation.

Following Foster’s graduation in July 2014, she found a job at an urgent care clinic, but also continued to volunteer as a physician at the free clinic.

“About seven months into volunteering, they started asking me about this position,” Foster said. “I always just loved this clinic. It felt so encouraging to be in a place where people really wanted to help people.”

Foster now sees patients at the clinic full-time, as do a full-time and a part-time nurse practitioner and several volunteer physicians.

With the free clinic’s clientele living below or near the poverty level, it’s a different environment from other places Foster could have found a job. She recalled a patient she saw recently who interrupted her lecture about his blood pressure to ask if she could give him a bar of soap.

When she replied that she could probably find some, he asked the next logical question: “Do you know where I can take a shower?”

As it turned out, the man was homeless, Foster said. He was also so hungry that he couldn’t concentrate on what she was saying.

“The whole focus of the visit changed,” Foster said. “I can’t address his blood pressure if he’s hungry. Those are very unique needs to this clinic.”

But Foster is encouraged by the staff at the clinic who go above and beyond, as well as the partnerships it has built with specialists in the community.

“If there’s really a need, I can send a patient for studies or lab work to quite a few specialists,” Foster said. “That always is very encouraging.”

The staff is very happy with Foster as well.

“She’s the best thing that ever happened to this clinic,” said Pam Witt, the director of clinical services.

Foster’s husband, Jared, is a major in the Air Force. They have a 3-year-old son, Noah, as well as a baby due in November. Two Shih Tzus round out the Foster household, which rests in Hampton to be closer to Jared’s job.