Drs. Patrick & Elizabeth White

Drs. Patrick and Elizabeth White

When we enter a building named for an individual, we may imagine a venerable business tycoon or elderly philanthropist. A pair of young physicians, fresh out of residency and just starting their careers, seems unlikely.

Yet this is the profile that fits the namesakes of the Drs. Patrick and Elizabeth White Client Resource Center—Powered by Ameren at Gateway 180: Homelessness Reversed, the state’s largest 24-hour shelter for homeless women, children and families.

The Whites were honored in recognition of their work to establish the shelter’s Health Education Literacy Project (HELP). “We’ve loved the time we’ve spent at Gateway 180, and to have our names be part of it is a great honor and very humbling,” says Dr. Elizabeth White. Both she and her husband, Dr. Patrick White, completed medical residencies in internal medicine last year and are now working as hospitalists (physicians who specialize in the care of hospitalized patients) with Washington University Physicians at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

The resource center is a bright space with comfortable seating, books, computers and a children’s play area. Elizabeth describes it as “warm and homey—it’s a really nice area for people to gather.”

Patrick White began working with homeless people 10 years ago as a summer volunteer at a Cleveland shelter. “There weren’t many activities for the clients at the shelter, so using bus tickets as prizes, we started playing a Jeopardy-style health quiz,” he explains. The program was popular, and Patrick expanded it while he was a medical student at Ohio State University. As a participant in Washington University’s Residents and Fellows Diversity Initiative, he saw an opportunity to build a similar program in St. Louis, involving other fellows.

The evening programs at Gateway 180 are limited to 20 clients and include a meal catered by a local restaurant, the health quiz and information provided by medical residents, basic health screenings, and one-on-one consultations. Pharmaceutical companies often donate sanitary supplies and items for participants to keep. “With 20 clients and two to four physicians, there’s plenty of opportunity for interactivity and conversation,” Patrick notes. “We’re able to correct many common health myths.”

“We learn so much from the clients about what people really understand regarding health and disease,” Elizabeth adds. “It’s definitely a two-way process, and it’s given us a better perspective for communicating with our own patients, which helps ensure the most positive outcomes.”

With HELP firmly established at Gateway 180 and the program’s leadership being continued by current medical residents, the Whites are preparing to leave St. Louis this summer. They will move to Pittsburgh, where Patrick will pursue a doctorate in health literacy, specializing in end-of-life care, and Elizabeth will focus on gastroenterology. Yet both are quick to say that they would like to return to St. Louis after completing their studies. In the meantime, they plan to work with Pittsburgh-area homeless shelters.

“Our work in St. Louis has been a huge source of energy for us,” Patrick says. “It reminds us both why we became doctors in the first place, and we feel very blessed to have been given so much by such an awesome community.”