Inspired by a disease that left two of his friends battling for their lives, a young James Hekman, MD, felt a calling to help. Even if he couldn’t save his friends lives, he could save others.
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In the early 1990s, before there was effective therapy for people with HIV, two of Dr. Hekman’s friends were diagnosed with what at the time was a terminal illness. One night, while watching the movie, Philadelphia, the powerful film about AIDS, Dr. Hekman, who had already graduated college, decided to embark on a journey to obtain his pre-medical courses, pass the MCAT and complete medical school and residency.
“My specific goal was to provide primary care and treat HIV,” he says. “Long story short, I have been treating HIV for the last 18 years, and my mission has expanded to create healthier lives for all of my patients, regardless of background or beliefs.” Today, Dr. Hekman serves as the Medical Director of the new Cleveland Clinic Lakewood Family Health Center.
The Lakewood Family Health Center opened in July. Why is this an important milestone for that community and Cleveland Clinic?
In Lakewood, residents are witnessing changes in healthcare in real time and with profound personal and local impact. It has not always been an easy adjustment. This is also a moment of real change for Cleveland Clinic as we move from a volume-based to a value-based delivery of health care.
I look at the launch of the Lakewood FHC as being an early glimpse into value-based care for both the community and Cleveland Clinic. We expect value-based care to improve the relationship between the two.
You are an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients and caregivers alike. How has the healthcare landscaped changed in the last decade or two with respect to LGBT care?
When I began 10 years ago at Cleveland Clinic, caregivers and patients who identified as LGBT were almost invisible. This was the case at many healthcare systems. Through the work and giving of “a little bit extra” by many, many people, this has changed. Through population research, we can estimate that at least one in every 25 people throughout Cleveland Clinic enterprise identify as LGBT. They have family members and others who love them, so this work toward inclusion for all people is yielding dividends. We are creating a culture of psychological safety.
What excites you about the future of healthcare?
The use of technology to build connections and networks of care is thrilling. Networks and improved processes allow us to more efficiently reach our patients in the setting that is right for them — which is often in their own homes. Moreover, identification of patterns in data and human behavior will allow us to intervene before a crisis. The potential of stoking our imaginations with real life “sci-fi” to change lives makes our work exciting.
What advice you would give to your 20-year-old self?
You have just as much value as anyone else in creation, but no more. Take a little time to live in the present – before it passes. You will encounter resistance and disappointments along this journey, so be strong, but you will experience much greater mentorship and camaraderie from truly inspirational people.
Something your colleagues may be surprised to learn about you?
I am an avid swimmer. At one of my favorite swimming sites, a sign on the wall reads: “the pool is my doctor.” I’m a believer.