Dedicated, selfless, humble — a few words that friends and colleagues use to describe Dr. Matthew Bernard.
Now he can add "health hero" to the list.
In June, Bernard accepted the 2016 Rural Health Hero Awardfor his 20-year dedication to medical volunteerism and helping those in need.
The Minnesota Rural Health Awards are presented each year with the aim to recognize individuals as well as medical teams that have made significant contributions to rural health care.
Dr. Matthew Bernard is chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the Mayo Clinic and is an associate professor professor of Family Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.
Besides working full time at the Mayo Clinic, he also has 20 years of experience in volunteer medicine, most recently co-founding the Center Clinic at Dodge Centerand serving as medical director. He treats patients there on Monday nights and teaches residents who volunteer at the clinic.
"One of our passions when going into family medicine is the idea of helping the community and doing volunteer services," Bernard said.
The Center Clinic is a mainly volunteer-based, nonprofit clinic that is dedicated to providing needed medical treatment to teens, children, and low-income men and women who are underinsured or uninsured. This includes physical and mental health care, along with counseling and education. The clinic is mainly run by nurses, with physicians working once or twice a week. On average, the clinic offers face-to-face treatment to about 12 to 15 people a day.
Jan Lueth, co-founder of the Center Clinic, said that she, along with other colleagues at the Center Clinic, chose to nominate Bernard for the award because of his endless dedication to the clinic and to helping those in need.
"He's pretty amazing, dedicated, and unselfish with his time. We're really grateful for what he has done for the community," Lueth said. "We know that if we ask him to help with something, he's going to do whatever he can. There's not a lot of people that I know that are like that."
Not knowing he was nominated, Bernard learned that he had received the award when his colleagues from the Center Clinic surprised him at a department meeting at Mayo Clinic.
"It's humbling. My immediate thought was, 'nice to get an award, but there are so many people deserving awards that hold the clinic together,'" Bernard said. "It was nice to accept the award on their behalf."
To accept the award, Bernard traveled to Duluth to attend the Minnesota Rural Health Conference on June 21. While at the conference, he said that he really appreciated the opportunity to speak with others in the medical field, including Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, who addressed the banquet.
"It was great to sit with him and talk with him," Bernard said. "And to realize that the leaders of our state have the same focus for helping the rural and under-served areas as we do."
Helping patients at the Center Clinic medically and with navigating the sometimes-confusing health care system, Bernard can think of many instances that have reinforced his love for volunteerism.
Bernard remembers a young woman who came into the clinic struggling with social issues. Working with the woman, he prescribed her medication and acted almost like her therapist, helping her manage the issues she was facing and working to find solutions. Six months later, Bernard received a letter from the woman, thanking him and updating him on the progress she had made.
"You talk about what keeps people in volunteer work, it's the recognition from the people that you helped. That's what keeps us going," said Bernard. "But even if there was none of that, it still feels good. Every time I do it it makes me re-energized."
Selfless and the ability to bring out the best in people: That is how Lueth describes her friend and colleague of 20 years.
"I wish we had more Matt Bernards in the world," she said.