Sarah Nosal, M.D., was a little girl when her family moved to Washington, D.C. The nation's capital did not make a good first impression.
"I used to cry on the bus in kindergarten, peering out the window at the homeless huddled over the grates," she said. "I couldn't understand the juxtaposition of such poverty and such wealth."
Nosal knew then she wanted to be a doctor so she could help such people, and her efforts to make a difference started early. In high school, she volunteered at a shelter for battered and abused women and their children. She later helped found her college's community service office. When Nosal learned that the Albert Einstein College of Medicine was starting New York's first student-run free clinic -- and she could be part of it -- she canceled all her other medical school interviews.
Nearly 20 years later, Nosal is still a vital part of Einstein's Community Health Outreach (ECHO) Free Clinic, serving as medical director for the two student-run free clinics of the Institute for Family Health, which collaborates with the college on ECHO, along with Amarilys Cortijo, M.D.
"I wanted to be the kind of doctor who could provide care to people who couldn't get it anywhere else," she said. "The clinic allows me to deliver a tiny bit of justice, giving uninsured patients the care and respect they deserve and passing those values on to the hundreds of medical students we train annually."
In addition to supervising medical students and seeing patients, Nosal is the chief medical information officer at the Institute for Family Health and the medical director for one of the institute's federally qualified health centers in the South Bronx. She also is a past president of the New York State AFP.
Her path was set to family medicine as a first-year medical student when she was working with a pediatrician on a mobile unit for homeless street youth. A young mother and child who were both ill came to the medical van, but the pediatrician informed the woman that he could not treat her because she was an adult.
"That's when I knew I had to be a family doc," Nosal said, "so that I could have the skills to help the most vulnerable with anything they needed."