• Dr. Natalie Gentile is a leader – and that’s an indisputable fact. She’s the owner of Gentile Family Direct Primary Care in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Penn. She’s president of the Direct Care Physicians of Pittsburgh alliance. And she’s the driving force behind a successful campaign to get COVID-19 vaccinations to “forgotten” healthcare workers.

    “I am an independent direct primary care physician; I’m not affiliated with anyone,” Gentile says. “I have the ability to see patients when needed, and it’s really rewarding.

    “In December, we received news about the COVID-19 vaccines to be distributed. For those of us not affiliated with a healthcare institution, it was clear no one was looking out for us. There are also dentists, therapists, and others, taking care of patients daily, but not directly connected with a healthcare institution – the forgotten healthcare workers.”

    Drawing on lessons learned in the AAFP Foundation’s Family Medicine Leads Emerging Leadership Institute (ELI), Gentile immediately went to work with others in the Direct Care Physicians alliance. They made the necessary calls, obtained vaccines, and scheduled weekend clinics.

    “Our sign-up list exploded, from one to five to 10 to 1,000,” she says.

    With no staff to lean on, Gentile and her fellow physicians in the alliance relied on residents and medical students. The first weekend, they vaccinated 100 healthcare workers. Then, they decided they could do more – vaccinating 300 the following weekend and another 300 the next weekend.

    After weeks of success, the vaccination program expanded beyond independent healthcare providers to include Phase 1A community residents. Then, they hit a governmental roadblock.

    “We’ve been told by the state of Pennsylvania that small clinics and pharmacies are likely not getting more vaccines,” Gentile says. “This is the reality of the bureaucracy of medicine, and the reason why many of us start our own direct care practices.”

    As she continues challenging the status quo and leading the way for more equitable vaccine distribution, Gentile says she remains hopeful for the future and thankful for her time at ELI.

    “Medical students and residents wonder, ‘What am I going to look like as a physician?’” she says. “Going through ELI gave me an immediate boost of confidence and inspiration; it led to the role I’m playing now as a leader and a physician.”

    Taking a pause in her busy day – she’s a wife and mother, as well as a physician leader – Gentile says she has one heartfelt message for future family physicians: The sky is the limit.

    “Do not feel limited by the typical path we think all family doctors should follow. We can be community leaders, entrepreneurs. We can try practice models that really help patients. The opportunities are present: Be inspired and know the sky is the limit as to what you can do as a family physician.”