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Q & A with Erin Corriveau, M.D., MPH

Erin Corriveau is an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health and the Department of Population Health.

Erin Corriveau, M.D., MPH
Erin Corriveau, M.D., MPH

Erin Corriveau is an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health and the Department of Population Health. Corriveau also serves are deputy medical officer for Wyandotte County in Kansas. Her role in the county has taken on more urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic. We spoke to Corriveau about her background and how COVID-19 pandemic has impacted her work.

Can you tell us a little about yourself…where you grew up and your education

I grew up in southern New Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley and very near the border. The formative experience of living in a “minority majority” state was very important to who I have become, and still to this day I regard New Mexican land and culture as sacred. My mother is originally from Oklahoma and my father is from Maine, so aside from my formative years in the valley, I had two other cultural influences at home that always felt to me like a nice balance of east and west. After high school, I left for college in Middlebury, Vermont, a place of unparallel natural beauty and quietude. There, I learned to read vigorously, write and took up distance running, which has been a healthy obsession of mine ever since. After traveling internationally for a year, I returned to New Mexico for my medical education and family and community medicine residency, then went to Johns Hopkins for a second residency in preventive medicine.

What brought you to KU School of Medicine?

For years before becoming faculty at KU School of Medicine, I knew Dr. Joshua Freeman, the former chair of family medicine at KU. He and my mentor, Dr. Arthur Kaufman, were close, so I had met Josh before and I knew of his work. Though I thought I might return to New Mexico after my training, there was a hiring freeze at the university at the time I needed to start my career. Josh reached out when he knew I was looking, and he graciously flew me out to Kansas City to take a look at KU. Almost six years later, here I am! And what can I say, Kansas City accepted me with open arms; it has turned out to be academically fulfilling, and full of wonderfully kind people.

Why were you interested in working in an academic medicine environment?

Academia is tough in many ways, but the benefits far outweigh the difficulty. First and foremost, students and residents make life better. They’re smart, energetic and fervent learners ―the kind of people I like to be around! Next, academia affords me opportunities to explore my many interests and ask questions. Finally, I get to work with people I highly respect and genuinely like. I cannot say enough about my colleagues. I learn from them often and believe each of them to be incredibly intelligent, committed to ensuring improved wellbeing for our patients as well as very supportive.

One of your responsibilities is serving as deputy medical officer for Wyandotte County. What has that been like in this time of COVID-19?

Since early March, I have been working at the Wyandotte County Health Department almost fulltime, though I still see patients once a week and cover our KU family medicine hospital service at times. There have been moments of sheer terror and tremendous exhaustion, but also of increased urgency and focus on important issues like health disparities, community collaboration, effective communication and the role of public health in our society. I remain grateful that both the health department and county leadership have welcomed me as part of the team. Between my roles at KU and at the Wyandotte County Health Department, more than ever I feel I am engaged in important work with a highly capable community-based team.

You have also been working with the JUNTOS Center for Advancing Latino Health at KU Medical Center to make sure that the Spanish-speaking population in Wyandotte County has access to the latest information about COVID-19. Can you tell us more about that?

Mariana Ramirez and her team at JUNTOS are incredible partners. Mariana, along with other community leaders, has led the effort to bring “pop-up” community based COVID testing sites in Wyandotte County. She has also ensured our testing and public health messaging campaigns are culturally and linguistically appropriate. Our partnership has kept us focused on fair and equitable distribution of COVID testing, and her influence is now helping us consider vaccine distribution as well.

How do you balance all that with your clinical practice and teaching responsibilities?

I try to balance it all with humor. 2020…you just can’t make this stuff up! In reality, it’s really tough to maintain balance right now. I suppose some silver lining in it all is that I have needed to prioritize those parts of my life that are especially important in order to maintain my sanity. Of course, I am looking forward to a time when we can all take a breather. It sure helps to see everyone working so diligently; we really are all together in the trenches and I find that incredibly motivating.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Oh, how I value spare time! When I have it, I run and ride my bicycle, dabble in ceramics, sing, attempt to play the fiddle, read, experiment in the kitchen and play with my labradoodle Oliver.

KU School of Medicine

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