Duke primary care physician Viviana Martinez-Bianchi has been named North Carolina's 2021 Family Physician of the Year by the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians.
Martinez-Bianchi, who serves as director of health equity for the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at Duke, said that she feels incredibly honored and did not expect the award.
"There is a saying in Spanish, 'Nadie es profeta en su tierra,' which means 'Nobody is a prophet in their own land,'” she said. “And to receive a recognition from the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians when there are 4,300 other amazing doctors working in this state is an honor."
Martinez-Bianchi said that while she loves getting to play many different roles during any given day or week, her favorite part of her job is seeing her patients. She found a silver lining in the shift from in-person visits to telehealth during the pandemic.
"It was like visiting people at home. I would see through the telehealth visit aspects of their home environment that I had never witnessed ... it was beautiful and in some cases became almost like a home visit," she said.
Aside from clinical work—which comprises about 30 to 40 percent of her average week—and her administrative role at Duke, Martinez-Bianchi is a passionate advocate for the Latinx community. She co-founded the Latinx Advocacy Team & Interdisciplinary Network for COVID-19 (LATIN-19) along with Duke pediatrician Gabriela Maradiaga Panayotti in March 2020.
The group's mission is to "improve the health and wellness of diverse Latina communities" using culturally competent solutions and collective leadership while "recognizing and amplifying the strength of Latina Community,” according to its website.
Martinez-Bianchi said that the group is valuable because it has created a safe space for community leaders and healthcare workers to exchange information.
"It's not about the University teaching the community, it's about the University learning from the community, and that is so, so important," she said.
While the group is focused on overall health, its origin and much of the work that has been done so far relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other advocacy and programming, LATIN-19 has been involved in the translation of healthcare-related information and vaccine promotion.
"A few weeks ago, I was talking with several representatives of community-based organizations, and they were hearing from the community that they would only get their vaccinations if it was a Duke event. That trust is something we help develop. And it's so important, right? And it's just because we are listening, and we are paying attention, and we're trying to make change according to what the community needs or suggests," Martinez-Bianchi said.
Martinez-Bianchi grew up in Argentina, where her father worked as a vascular surgeon and her mother as a biochemist. As a child, she always knew she wanted to be a doctor. However, the World Health Organization's Declaration of Alma-Ata, which declared health as a human right, inspired her interest in public health.
"I always dreamed of this space that had both clinical care and public health," Martinez-Bianchi said.
When she was in medical school in Argentina, she found out about family medicine, which didn't exist as a specialty in Argentina to the same extent that it did in the United States. Martinez-Bianchi trained in family medicine at the University of Iowa before serving as a rural doctor in Iowa for five years.
While Martinez-Bianchi loved her clinical practice, she wanted to pursue both teaching and public health. After several roles that moved her closer to these goals, she began working at Duke in 2014.
Throughout her time at Duke, Martinez-Bianchi's practice and advocacy has been based on listening to the community.
"The community always has a voice. The issue is, can we hear it? And who is hearing it?" she said.
While she loves that her job allows her to impact community health at a local level, Martinez-Bianchi is currently vying for a job that would allow her to work on issues relevant to family medicine at the global level. Her campaign for president of the World Organization of Family Doctors follows a six-year tenure as Member-at-Large of the WONCA Executive.
Additionally, Martinez-Bianchi dreams of a Center for Excellence in Latino Health at Duke that would "expand what we have been doing just for COVID to other medical concerns ... there's so much to do in an interdisciplinary fashion."
Martinez-Bianchi said that she is motivated by "the ability to make a difference and seeing that there is one less person who is sick or there is one more person who understands their illness or feels supported or feels that I am there for them."
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Anna Zolotor is a Trinity senior and recruitment chair for The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously news editor for Volume 117.