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Marc Altshuler

You can find Jefferson’s version of Ellis Island in the BOK building, a former vocational school in South Philadelphia and current home to Jefferson’s Hansjörg Wyss Wellness Center.

Portrait of Marc Altshuler with graphics of building blocks, hands forming a heart, and 2 hands holding behind him.

“Health care is hard to navigate even when you do speak English,” says Marc Altshuler, MD ’01, professor and residency director of Family and Community Medicine and the clinical leader of the Wyss Center. “Immigrants and refugees are facing unprecedented challenges today, and receiving health care shouldn’t be another barrier to overcome.”

For two decades, Altshuler has removed those barriers, building the region’s largest medical clinic for refugees. In recognition of his efforts, Altshuler received the Faegre Drinker Healthcare Hero Award at the 2021 Jefferson Gala. 

Altshuler was drawn into family medicine and community service during his early years as a medical student at Jefferson, when he got involved in JeffHOPE, which is one of the largest student-run organizations at Jefferson where students are running different clinics at homeless shelters across the city. “I spent as much free time during my four years as I could at different homeless shelters, working my way up to become one of the directors of JeffHOPE,” he says.

Those experiences opened Altshuler’s eyes. “For many of our patients there’s a lack of resources in the community,” he says. “A lot of our patients are struggling, and for many of them, it’s very hard to see other doctors. Because they work, there’s a time commitment, there’s a cost. And they come to the primary care doctor to try to take care of everything. At the same time, there are a lot of different social determinants that impact a patient’s health and, as a primary care doctor, you have a unique insight into that, which can make it very challenging, but also very rewarding at the same time.”

Several years ago, Altshuler and his colleagues embarked on an ambitious plan to fundraise to build a health center that could take care of the larger immigrant community, not just refugees. 

“Through support of many of my colleagues and leadership across Jefferson and fundraising we were able to open the Wyss Wellness Center in South Philadelphia,” he says. “I think that’s probably my other proudest clinical movement is knowing that this dream of mine to open a health center actually happened.”