Natalie Rodriguez, MD
Associate Clinical Professor
Department of Family Medicine
University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine
As associate director of the UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project, Dr. Rodriguez has had a dramatic impact on patients in underserved communities who have come to rely on the Free Clinic as a source of support. She simultaneously mentors preprofessional students, preclinical and clinical students, and residents and helps them define their medical careers through her work as an associate clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine and as a clinical faculty member of the Scripps Chula Vista Family Medicine Residency Program.
At the UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project, Dr. Rodriguez delivers care well beyond the clinics. She drives across San Diego to hand-deliver food and medication to patients’ homes and has been known to visit a patient at home who didn’t respond to phone calls about an urgent medical situation.
Her instant recall of each patient’s support system, housing situation, chief complaint, and barriers to transportation enables her to adjust the care she provides to their needs. For example, she proactively expedites a patient’s medication refill at the clinic pharmacy if the patient is in a rush to catch the last bus home.
Dr. Rodriguez treats her students and colleagues in a similar way, looking beyond their immediate requests to understand their underlying needs. This may mean inviting a medical student into her home for meals to ease the transition of the student’s cross-country move, baking cookies to boost morale among the busy free clinic’s staff and volunteers, or spending an hour on the phone with a medical student concerned about racism in medical education. As one student put it, “Dr. Rodriguez listens with the goal of understanding my own perspective and to see the issues I face through my eyes.”
Another student shared, “Through her leadership in the Medical Spanish elective course, she teaches students not only about Spanish vocabulary and phrases, but also teaches us about methods of communication, tenets of behavioral health, and cultural elements that can help us to better connect with patients with backgrounds different from our own.”
As the first person in her family to attend college and a child of immigrants, Dr. Rodriguez knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a doctor and serve communities that looked like hers. She has achieved numerous recognitions, including the Latino Medical Student Association’s Commitment to the Community Award and the California Endowment Scholarship for Community Service.
Dr. Rodriguez has called the San Diego area her home throughout her medical career, earning her MD from UCSD School of Medicine, completing her residency at the Scripps Family Medicine Residency Program in Chula Vista, and pursuing an Underserved Health Care Fellowship at UCSD.