Published September 30, 2019
Although Dr. Kim Griswold did not know it at the time, her early training and career in theater provided her with the skills she would need as a clinician many years later. In theater, Griswold had to become adept at communicating with other actors – reading their body language, listening carefully to their lines, and responding appropriately. These skills are essential to quality patient care.
Griswold’s path to becoming a clinician was certainly not straight. However, it is a path that displays her perseverance and unending aim to act well her part.
Shortly after Griswold’s theater career began, she suffered some major losses. After moving home to care for her mother while she battled terminal cancer, Griswold suffered major injuries, including a broken back and pelvis, in a horseback riding accident that left her in the hospital for a month. While in the hospital, Griswold’s family doctor suggested that she consider a career in nursing, which she eventually pursued at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse. Her first job as a nurse was on the “ward floor” for Neurology at Massachusetts General. At the time, hospitals served patients who could and could not pay (Medicaid and Medicare were in their infancy) on different floors or buildings. The ward floor served those patients who had less resources for medical bills.
Her mentor at the time, Dr. Allan Ropper, was chief neurologist at Massachusetts General. After working for Dr. Ropper as a nurse coordinator for a research study, he suggested she consider medical school. She was uninterested at that time, so he recommended she pursue a Master’s in Public Health.
Griswold began her training in public health at Yale University. She found it fascinating. The profession opened her eyes to health systems, the social determinants of health, and prevention. It connected her with the community and more specifically, to underserved populations. It led her to work on projects that informed her future work like incorporating mental health indices to assess prisoner health in New Haven jails. Griswold’s public health training also exposed her to Yale’s development of the Diagnostic Related Groups (DRGs) which are the funding mechanisms on which the current healthcare system is based.
With a wider understanding of health and wellbeing, Griswold wanted to study the national health system in England via an MPH exchange at Oxford. To go, she had to present her proposal to an all-male group of Yale faculty. Despite her nerves, Griswold called on her acting background for strength – she pretended to be Katherine Hepburn so that her confidence would speak louder. They approved her project.
After graduating from Yale, Griswold worked for several years as a researcher in Buffalo. However, she missed the opportunity to interact with patients. With guidance from family medicine physicians, and another mentor, UB’s Jim Rosso, Griswold began to take basic science courses so that she could pursue a medical degree. At the age of 40, Griswold applied and got accepted to UB.
During medical school, Griswold worked as a nurse at Vive La Casa, a shelter for asylum seekers. Their nursing office supported mostly Somali and Sri Lankan refugees and asylum seekers who were moving into Canada. This work provided her first connection with Buffalo’s refugee population, a group that she continues to serve.
Having graduated medical school, the opportunity to work as a clinician was exhilarating for Griswold – she found a career where she could combine all of the training she acquired over the years. Starting with UB Family Medicine in 1997, Griswold has held positions as Medical Director for the Center for Survivors of Torture with Jewish Family Services and Medical Director for UB Family Medicine at BestSelf Behavioral Health.
With the Community for Global Health Equity, Griswold leads the Refugee Health and Wellbeing Big Ideas Team. As PI of the Standardized Patient Project – an interprofessional training program that brings together medical, nursing, and social work students to learn from one another and from Buffalo’s diverse refugee population – Griswold seeks to increase cultural competency of UB students. Griswold also acts as faculty mentor for UB’s Human Rights Initiative, a student-run organization that conducts medical and psychiatric forensic evaluations for survivors of torture and political violence.
Looking ahead, Griswold finds encouragement from current UB medical students. Their involvement in advocacy and human rights, and their acknowledgement of the power they hold as medical professionals suggest to her that they are prepared, innovative thinkers who will work to improve the health and wellbeing of populations around the world.