UNC Family Medicine Associate Professor Gayle Thomas, MD, has been named North Carolina’s 2021 Community Star by The National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) for her vital work as Medical Director of the NCDHHS Office of Rural Health’s NC Farmworker Health Program. From the NOSORH Community Stars publication:
“Gayle Thomas has been a Community Star Her whole career, dedicated to serving underserved populations,” said Elizabeth Freeman Lambar, ORH Farmworker Health Program Manager. “However, during the pandemic, Dr. Thomas has gone above and beyond every day since March 2020, and she has been a champion of the Farmworker Vaccination Plan that vaccinated more than 27,000 farmworkers with an acceptance rate over 90%.”
Dr. Thomas has been in the role of Medical Director of the Farmworker Health Program since 2013, running a mobile clinic where she manages a team of physicians, nurses, residents, and medical students who drive out to migrant farmworker labor camps to deliver care to migrant farmworkers, many of whom have traveled here from Mexico on a temporary agricultural guest worker visa program. Her efforts to educate others in the care of this population have led to the creation of a medical student elective in Migrant Health at the UNC School of Medicine and a required two-week Vulnerable Populations rotation for the UNC Family Medicine Residency.
Dr. Thomas was born to missionary parents in the Republic of Congo, where she discovered aspirations to work in medicine. Her motivation to work with the farmworker community originated from her experience working with these unique health needs during a rotation as a resident in rural Oregon. She states, “It has been a privilege to bring attention to the needs of these men and women who play such an essential role in our society by growing and harvesting our food. Farmworkers experience so many barriers to healthcare, including low wages, lack of transportation and health insurance, language barriers, and work hours that often last from sunrise to sunset, 6 days per week without any paid time off. Unfortunately, our society prefers that we not know about the working and living conditions of the people who provide us with our food.”
Dr. Thomas will be retiring at the end of the year, with Family Medicine Assistant Professor Modjulie Moore, MD, assuming the role at that time. Her efforts to train and support future leaders working with underserved populations will leave the program prepared to continue delivering high-quality care to our most vulnerable.