Helen Claire West, MD, is clinical associate professor in the division of general medicine and medical director of the UNC Panther Creek Internal Medicine Faculty Practice (opening in Fall, 2019).

Helen Claire West, MD

What brought you to UNC Medical center?  

While I was born and raised in the Boston area, I have deep roots in North Carolina.  Both my parents were born in NC, and I have many fond memories of vacations here growing up.  I attended UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergraduate and met my husband while here.  We’ve spent nearly 20 years back in the Boston area and are thrilled to return to what we both consider our home state, to be closer to family and this world-class institution.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Somerville, MA.  After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, I spent time in Washington, DC, at the National Institutes of Health and also in Manhattan before settling back in the Boston area. We have just moved back to Chapel Hill from Cambridge, MA, where we have lived for the past 5 years.

Did you always want to be a doctor?

Since the 4th grade I wanted to pursue the biological sciences.  I was fortunate to work in an undergraduate lab here with Jeff Dangl, PhD, and Sarah Grant, PhD, and to continue molecular biology research after graduation at the NIH.  It became clear during my time there that I was most drawn towards direct patient interactions, which led me to pursue medical school.

How did you choose your specialty?

One of the things I love most about my work is that only over time have I realized how right primary care is for me. I considered an infectious disease fellowship during residency but ultimately didn’t want to differentiate. Now I know that it is my belief in the patient-doctor relationship as well as the satisfaction drawn from having an impact on population health that make this the specialty for me.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

Knowing that my commitment to a solid relationship with my patients result in improvements in their health, their family’s health and the quality of their life. This includes using process improvement methods on the front line to see improvements in population health, as well as cost savings!

What are some of the new developments in your field of specialty? 

The use of informatics and personal tech devices to improve patient engagement, home hospitalization and other more intensive home-based care practices.

Is there a particular achievement (professional or personal) that has been most gratifying to you?

I can’t say this is an achievement so much as an ongoing journey but working to gracefully have work-life balance is certainly a gratifying effort.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t try to fit yourself into any kind of perceived ideal career path, instead find out what you love and create your career around it.

If you weren’t a physician, what would you like to be doing?

Something in the food and wine industry.

What hobbies to you enjoy?

I enjoy music (from early music to bluegrass to 90s alternative), reading (esp. historical fiction), all things food and wine, travel, running, skiing and playing with my kids (Legos and birding are big right now).

What is your favorite quote or life motto?

Stress is a choice.

What is the last book you read?

A colleague just gave me Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which I’m enjoying. The elements of magical realism remind me of Haruki Murakami’s writing whose books I also enjoy.  I also recently read Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon and loved the lyricism.