As a child growing up in a poor neighborhood near Boston, Rebecca Andrews watched as her single mom cut expenses to afford medicines for her two children.
No one around her went to the doctor -- unless they were on "death's door," she recalls. "I remember thinking, 'What is it that keeps them from going?'"
The first in her family to go to college, Andrews excelled in math and science. She decided on medicine to help people like those from her childhood stay healthy and understand the importance of regular doctor visits.
Her passion and advocacy for the underserved have not gone unnoticed. Now director of General Medicine Associates and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Dr. Andrews was selected by the American College of Physicians as this year's recipient of the Richard Neubauer Advocate for Internal Medicine Award. She accepted the award June 6 at a banquet at the annual Leadership Day event, in which ACP members meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss common issues.
"I had no idea it would be so easy to get involved, and I have loved every minute of it," Andrews noted in her acceptance speech. "I am extremely thankful for both the opportunities I have been granted and this award."
Her early associations with ACP began shortly after Andrews finished her residency at Connecticut in 2006, when she took a position at the Community Health Center in New Britain. At the time, the Connecticut Chapter of ACP's Council of Young Physicians was looking for a co-chair and invited Andrews to apply for the slot.
"It was a good match for me," she said of the opportunity to help young physicians get a start in life after medical school.
In 2011, she joined the national Council of Young Physicians, and at last year's Leadership Day, Andrews was ready when Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) asked for patient stories in connection with the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
"I sent a young woman in for a colonoscopy even though she didn't really want one, and we found an early cancer," she recalls telling Courtney. "I found blood in urine samples of two men who were smokers, and their bladder cancers were easily taken care of. They're all doing quite well."
Shortly after that meeting, Courtney invited Andrews to join him at various town hall meetings to discuss health care and the Affordable Care Act. She also writes editorials and answers e-mails on the law almost daily.
Andrews said that she's hardly alone in advocating for the underserved, saying it was simply good fortune that she was singled out for the Neubauer Award.
"Physicians have realized it is time to stand up for patients' needs, to reach out to members of the community and educate lawmakers," she said. "I have been very lucky to be in the right place at the right time, to have patient stories to share and to be able to explain why the ACA is so beneficial."
Next on her agenda, she said, is to encourage more residents to go into primary care and enjoy the satisfaction she has found advocating for others.