Anne Steptoe’s idea for her company MedServe stemmed from her frustrations with the traditional process required to pursue a medical career.

As a medical student who grew up in a medically underserved community, “I am a user of the problem MedServe tries to solve,” she said.

MedServe is a nonprofit that sends medical students to work in medically underserved communities. This provides support to primary-care practices in these communities while also benefiting the students by allowing them to get hands-on experience and gain an understanding of why primary care is important.

Steptoe was inspired to go to medical school after a summer working in a medical clinic in a rural community.

“I was working with this scrappy small-town doctor who was constantly innovating,” she said. “I thought that was the coolest job in the world.”

But as Steptoe progressed through the system of a medical education, she often felt far from that moment, such as the two years she spent conducting research.

“The things I did got me through the doors of a medical school, but it didn’t speak to that inspiring experience I’d had,” she said.

Steptoe decided to come to the Fuqua School of Business to learn how to become an entrepreneur. She came with a list of things in healthcare that bothered her, such as the standards that are expected of all medical students but aren’t well-tailored to the individual.

Steptoe already had a vague idea of what MedServe could look like, but she assumed she wouldn’t start the company for another five to 10 years. During her first year at Fuqua, she spent time working on another unrelated startup that ultimately failed.

That failure made Steptoe start thinking about MedServe again, and she decided to ask if the failed startup’s seed money could be applied to that idea, instead.

The Duke Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (Duke CASE), the investor of the seed money, agreed to invest in MedServe in June 2015.

A year later, the first cohort of 12 MedServe students was sent out to their assignments throughout North Carolina. They have now been in the field for seven months.

Steptoe said assessments of MedServe students have shown a 40 percent increase in understanding of primary care problems and practices. In six months, more than 15,000 people have been cared for in communities that MedServe touches.

And MedServe is already a highly competitive program, recruiting from about 55 universities across the country. The first cohort’s acceptance rate was 15 percent.
As MedServe has gained media attention, Steptoe, who is running a social venture while finishing her last year of medical school, has begun to consider expanding the program past the state’s borders.

“My vision is to create an army of advocates for health equity in every zipcode,” she said.

To learn more about MedServe, visit its website.

To read about more Duke Entrepreneurs, click here.

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