Lighting a pathway for people to build community health
Pages from a "word-of-the-day" desk calendar blanket the row of cabinets above Ann Banchoff's office desk. One word, "ludic," which reads "playful in an aimless way," captures her lighthearted nature.
When asked her favorite book she quipped, "the dictionary," but later added a recent read, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, PhD, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton professor of education. The book discusses the perils of holding fixed ideas about oneself and others—versus a "growth mindset." The thesis not only reflects Banchoff's approach when coaching students, but also captures her career.
A winding global journey, pivoting around Stanford, has sent Banchoff from Moscow to Ethiopia before leading her to help establish and run the School of Medicine's Office of Community Health.
As a Stanford undergraduate, Banchoff majored in international relations, building on her Russian, French and Spanish language skills. She was a residential advisor for Roble Hall, where she met her future husband, a fellow R.A. At that same time she also met Phil Taubman and Felicity Barringer, a pair of Stanford alumni who oversaw the Moscow bureau of the New York Times. She later went to Russia to work for the Taubmans at a fascinating time politically, she said, as the Soviet Union was undergoing tremendous change. "But perhaps the best part was sitting in the kitchens of Russian friends, drinking tea," she said.
In 1988, Banchoff returned to the United States in Washington, D.C., where she spent several years working for the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. She traveled widely, monitoring human rights, elections and other political developments in Estonia, Latvia and the Baltic States. While she valued the work, she said she felt too far removed from those affected. "I had just about the best job of anyone I knew, but it wasn't where I wanted to make my career," she said. "The CIA and KGB stuff—having to have Department of Defense top-
secret security clearance—that didn't thrill me. I really wanted to be working more directly with people."
So Banchoff headed to rural Ethiopia to join a three-month community health project. Camping in a tent in a remote village, she addressed local health needs as part of a Russian-American team working through an Ethiopian non-governmental organization. With an Ethiopian interpreter, she assisted a Russian physician in providing medical care to villagers. "It was a crazy three-way translation effort, but somehow it worked out," she said. "For me, the whole experience was part of turning towards a career in community health."
Banchoff returned to the Bay Area in 1991 to use her language skills assisting Russian refugees at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. Then she discovered a unique volunteer training program in patient advocacy at the Mayfield Community Clinic in Palo Alto. Working at Mayfield for the next three years marked a major turning point for her, she said, where acting as an ally to newly arriving immigrants combined her passions for cross-cultural communication and community health. She went back to school to complete a master's degree in social work and public health at UC-Berkeley.
Banchoff returned to Stanford in 2000 to help set up new community health programs at the School of Medicine. It was exciting to come back and help build the school's commitment to engaging the local community. While most of her work focused on medical student education, she also wanted to help undergraduates take part in substantive community-based clinical work.
With her Mayfield experiences in mind, she returned to the Palo Alto clinic, now called MayView, and found the patient advocacy training program discontinued from lack of funds. Seeing an opportunity to bring the training and coordination efforts to Stanford, Banchoff partnered with MayView, other local clinics and Gabriel Garcia, MD, senior associate dean for medical admissions and faculty director of the Haas Center for Public Service, to create a service-learning course in patient advocacy.
In its fourth year, the Patient Advocacy Program is now one of the core programs within the Office of Community Health that Banchoff started with Marilyn Winkleby, PhD, professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. The office merges the medical school's educational mission with its commitment to respond to community needs in a collaborative way. "It's all about partnership," said Banchoff. "And it's work that I love."
As an extension of the Patient Advocacy Program, Banchoff recently spent a month in Oaxaca, Mexico. She and Garcia united with Child Family Health International to create a pilot program that gave 15 Stanford students the opportunity to study and work within the Mexican health-care system while taking Spanish courses to boost their effectiveness in clinics back home. Second-year medical student Tiffany Castillo said having experienced the Mexican health-care system firsthand has enabled her to better connect with immigrants here in the Bay Area. "I understand more where patients are coming from," she said.
Banchoff's three daughters and husband, Christopher Grover, MD, the R.A. from her undergraduate days, accompanied the group on their trip to Oaxaca. In the Oaxacan classroom, Grover spoke about his service to the Mexican immigrant population as a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology in Modesto. After graduating from the Stanford's medical school in 1991 and completing his residency at UC-San Francisco, Grover worked at a health clinic serving low-income women, and has since risen to become medical director and a leader in community health in Stanislaus County.
Rather than abandon the clinic, he makes the 90-minute commute to the Central Valley three days a week. "What drew us together initially were shared values of how we wanted to live our lives," Banchoff said. "It's been interesting to realize that Chris is exactly the kind of doctor many of these students want to become."
Looking back, Banchoff views her life as nonlinear and says that her greatest accomplishments have come from collaboration. She encourages students to remain open to new directions, and to take some risks. "No choice is the last choice we will ever make," she said. "I don't feel like I have landed, that my life is all decided, but for right now Stanford is a great place for me."
Brian Lee is a former science-writing intern in the medical school's Office of Communication & Public Affairs.