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by Abby Arcuri

Every part of someone’s career plays a part in their future. CHER is one step in many people’s future. We’re glad to catch up with one CHER alum: former graduate student Ben Kaplan.

Kaplan came to CHER for a summer program while attending UNC’s School of Medicine. During this program, he began a research project that he still works on today.

Learn more about Kaplan’s story before, during and after being with CHER.

The road to CHER

Beginning in Kaplan’s undergraduate career, he attended Columbia University. There, he earned a degree in English Language and Literature.

After graduating and deciding to attend medical school, Kaplan says one of the main factors that brought him to UNC was CHER. He had always been interested in health equity research, and CHER provided that opportunity. Plus, Kaplan knew Giselle Corbie, then director of CHER.

With his interests in mind, Kaplan came to UNC to become a doctor and start research.

Once in Chapel Hill, Kaplan was eager to get himself involved. So, he applied and was selected for a summer fellowship between his first and second year of medical school. This program was the CHER Research Summer Program Fellowship (CRSP). Kaplan highly recommends it to anyone interested in health equity.


During Kaplan’s time at CHER’s CRSP program, he began a summer project that he still works on today.

The project centered around a topic Kaplan had been interested in for a while. He wanted to work with those who experienced socioeconomic barriers to consistent healthcare. These people, who are often referred to as “hot spotters,” “super-utilizers,” or, as Kaplan prefers, “patients with complex care needs,” often have many hospitalizations but limited contact with primary care.

Kaplan wanted to develop his project around learning about these patients’ experiences.

In his research, Kaplan used a qualitative research and advocacy technique called Photovoice, where participants take and discuss photographs of their own experiences. These helped him gain an understanding of what patients were going through. Kaplan stressed the importance of this type of research. He said “it gives a glimpse into the realities these patients are experiencing.”

From what Kaplan has gathered so far, he says that change “cannot come from within the healthcare system, it has to come from people we are serving.”

Leading this research project also taught him many important research skills. Kaplan learned to write grants, manage databases, analyze data and adhere to Institutional Review Board (IRB) guidelines.

Kaplan is proud of himself and his success in “turning an idea into reality.”

Where he is now

Although Kaplan is still working on his research project from CHER, he is also completing his final year of family medicine residency. He will soon be a full-time care provider.

Similar to his research, Kaplan says he wants to provide medical care for those with multiple chronic illnesses and socioeconomic challenges.

Kaplan specifically wants to make an impact on people who have had negative experiences in healthcare spaces. He seeks to provide inclusive, comprehensive primary care that “validates patients’ identities,” including gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary patients.

In practice, Kaplan stresses the importance of “meeting everyone where they are.” Providing a safe place for patients is a major part of this, and Kaplan hopes he can do so.

Additionally, Kaplan is currently working on an educational intervention for primary care clinicians seeking to provide gender-affirming care, Improving Family Medicine Residents’ Provision of Gender-Affirming Care.

Looking ahead

Kaplan is excited about what comes next in his career, and there are many things he wishes to pursue. One is building a primary care panel that focuses on building relationships with patients.

Also, Kaplan is excited to start working in a clinic once he graduates. While in the clinic, he is eager to mentor students on rotations through his clinic.

Continuing research is important to Kaplan as well, and his project has evolved to a point where he can do something with it.

Kaplan contributed significantly to CHER, and he continues to use what he learned at the center in his work today. Throughout his work, he’s seen the importance of  “uplifting voices of patients who are silenced by forces in the system,” a principle he knows CHER holds.

Kaplan says that CHER is a “magical incredible place, and I can’t wait to keep working.” He’s has already made a significant impact in healthcare, and CHER is excited to see everything Kaplan accomplishes next.