Dr. Maria Christine Witherspoon’s passion for caregiving and service has led her to many paths, and she will now travel to a residency at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida in family medicine.
“Growing up, my parents always instilled the values in me and my sister to give back to the community and volunteer whenever possible,” Witherspoon said. Her family took in sick relatives in the home, allowing her to gain practical experience in caregiving early on and inspiring her to enter the field of medicine.
As a teenager she prepared herself for medical school and went on to Tennessee State University where she majored in biology and minored in chemistry, she said. During that time her mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer and Witherspoon took care of her in her time of need, just as her mother had done for others.
Her mother passed away on December 8, 2020.
At TSU Witherspoon found a mentor in the late Dr. Lois Harlston of the college’s biology department. “She is the one who helped me to get on the path to be accepted into the B.S. Md. program at Meharry,” she recalled. “I knew I wanted to serve the underserved and give back to that population, and I knew Meharry would be the perfect place for me to go to do that.”
For a while, Witherspoon said she pondered what care she would specialize in going forward. “I knew that family medicine was the best option for me based off what I had been through myself: enjoying establishing relationships with patients, having continuity of care and being able to treat people of all age groups and backgrounds.”
Family medicine physicians practice pediatric and geriatric care, often treating the whole family unit and seeing patients from all backgrounds. As family medicine is a broad spectrum of care, Witherspoon noted, physicians can branch off into different practices such as OB/GYN care and addiction health.
Her goal, however, remains the same: to give back to the community and help those who need it most. “Communities that have health disparities are my main focus,” she said. “I want to make sure those people are taken care of.”
The biggest obstacle for underserved communities remains access to care, Witherspoon said, and that’s been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Family physicians can play a significant role, especially in times of isolation, she added, and there are many patients who live by themselves and their doctor may be their only social outlet.
“When you foster a connection with somebody they’re able to open up to you more,” she said.
“Sometimes when a patient is just seeing you for one time only, there’s certain things that they may not feel comfortable talking to you about … You feel they’re a family member to you as well, and that opens doors for the physician to better treat you.”