When Dr. Mikey Maurer’s patients miss a follow up appointment, he doesn’t need to call them to reschedule—he can just go down the hall to their classroom to make sure they get the follow up care they need.
Maurer, a pediatrician and graduate of the Class of 2011, works at the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation/University of Miami School Health Initiative, a school-based health care program that coordinates clinical care, program development, and health education activities for students in medically underserved areas in Miami. He oversees medical care in nine clinics, including four primary care clinics based at high schools.
“[The clinics] create a safe space for the students during their school day to know that they have a place that they could go if they were ever sick or if they had any other sort of medical or mental health issue,” Maurer says. “We do a wide range of things: general adolescent medicine services, a significant amount of mental health work, and guidance for these teenagers. Many of the patients come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have experienced some level of trauma in their short lives, and ultimately do not have a consistent mentor in their lives. We try to fill that role for a lot of our patients while also educating them about living a safe and healthy lifestyle."
Most of Maurer's patients experience obstacles to accessing adequate preventative care, including socioeconomic barriers, lack of insurance, transportation issues, or minimal knowledge of navigating the U.S. healthcare system. He sees patients that are immigrants from Haiti, children of immigrants from Central or South America, and even students whose families were displaced from the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc on the islands in late summer 2019.
Maurer works with a staff of other pediatricians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, medical assistants, clinical psychologists, and administrators to provide comprehensive primary care and preventative health services to children and adolescents at these schools. Plus, as an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics, he also oversees the medical trainees from the University of Miami who work in the clinics.
“This is a really unique model,” Maurer says. “I’m engaging with teenagers and adolescents on a much deeper level than many pediatricians. We take the time to get into their classrooms, give them health educational activities, and really just spend time with teenagers when their parents aren’t necessarily around, because it is the middle of the school day. We really dig into some of the issues that matter for these teens and adolescents.”
Maurer sees his work as complementary to the care provided by students’ primary care or specialist doctors, and always encourages students with access to health insurance to take advantage of it and see their own primary care doctor. But in the case of many uninsured students, the School Health Initiative provides life-saving care when there is a gap in coverage.
“We have diagnosed kids with rare genetic syndromes that have gone undiagnosed for their entire 17 years of life, because they have not been able to access the medical care that they need,” Maurer says. “We have been there when kids are in a mental health crisis and don’t know where to turn. We were able to get them into the care that they need and help support them and provide them with coping skills so that they can stay out of harm’s way.”
Maurer, an Indiana native who attended medical school at the Indiana University School of Medicine and completed his pediatric residency at Stanford, has been on the job in Miami for just over a year and his commitment to his patients is strong. He says it is because of their resilience in the face of challenging circumstances, and a longtime connection to working with children.
“I always knew that I really had a higher level of compassion for children, looking at their innocence and their vulnerability,” says Maurer, who was recognized as one of Notre Dame’s inaugural Domer Dozen honorees in 2019. The Domer Dozen honors young alumni who continue to make a difference in their faith, service, learning, and work, serving as inspiring role models to a rising generation of soon-to-be Notre Dame graduates.
“As I went through medical school, I gathered different experiences working with kids, and during my time at Notre Dame, I worked at Camp Sweeney, a summer camp for kids living with Type 1 Diabetes. It was at that camp that I learned even more deeply about how social injustice manifests itself in terms of ability to adhere to a management plan for a child living with a chronic medical condition, and what access to certain resources looks like. I chose [pediatrics] purely based off the patient population, knowing that I would have the opportunity to work with this vulnerable population for the duration of my life and career. When it comes to people that start with the deck stacked against them, we have to do everything we can to level the playing field.”