CMA Doc: Patricia Cantrell, M.D.

September 17, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Leadership Pediatrics 


Name: Patricia Cantrell, M.D.
City: San Diego
Specialty: Pediatrics
Member Since 1990

Five years ago when San Diego pediatrician Pat Cantrell, M.D., was invited to give a lecture about food insecurity at a community planning conference, she said, “Honestly, it made me realize I didn’t know much about hunger. When you see someone who is overweight you don’t think they need food.”

Later when Dr. Cantrell asked the mother of one of her patients if he was eating fruits and vegetables, she replied that fresh produce was too expensive. The mother didn’t realize that her family qualified for food assistance. Dr. Cantrell got on the phone, dialed 2-1-1, a robust referral system in San Diego, and asked for a Spanish translator. In short order the family was signed up for CalFresh benefits.

This experience made Dr. Cantrell ask herself, “How many patients am I missing? Waiting for patients to tell me that they are having trouble buying healthy food isn’t the answer.”  

Realizing that if she didn’t know about the prevalence of hunger and the connection between food insecurity and obesity, other doctors probably didn’t either. Dr. Cantrell began educating everyone from hospital administrators to physician assistants about how to recognize the problem and what to do to help. 

Today, Dr. Cantrell is spearheading a movement to end hunger in San Diego County. She developed the San Diego Food Insecurity Coalition in partnership with the San Diego Chapter of the American Academy  of Pediatrics, Hunger Coalition, San Diego Food Bank, the San Diego chapter of the California Medical Association and 2-1-1.

Dr. Cantrell also started a pilot program in September 2017 where all patients at the 12 Kaiser Permanente clinics in the county will be automatically screened for hunger and referred to needed resources. As part of the program, San Diego 2-1-1 will also screen for all of the social determinants of health in addition to hunger. According to Dr. Cantrell, “there’s a disconnect between available services and the people who need them. We are the bridge to make sure all services are utilized.”

As president of the San Diego Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is reaching out to all of the pediatric medical groups and pediatricians throughout the county and beyond. Doctors in Texas and Colorado have contacted her wanting to replicate the hunger screening and referral project.

Dr. Cantrell is also working with the University of California, San Francisco’s Champion Provider Fellowship program, helping health care providers in other California counties with hunger screening tools. “The Champion Provider Fellowship made me realize that change isn’t going to happen until somebody does it. I can be that somebody.”

The Champion Provider Fellowship empowers, trains and supports doctors and dentists to use their expertise and respected voices to improve the health  of communities through local policy, systems and environmental changes. Learn more at championprovider.ucsf.edu.

California's doctors aren't just health care and medical experts. They're also community leaders, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and policymakers dedicated to ensuring that patients receive quality health care at an affordable cost. #CMAdocs showcases California physicians leading the charge to help their communities thrive.

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