Dr. Charity Thoman Earns Gerald E. Bruce Community Service Award

Class of 1995 Ford Scholar Charity (Dean) Thoman earned the 2013 Gerald E. Bruce Community Service Award for her contributions to the medical field and to her community.

Gerald Bruce was one of the founding directors of The Ford Family Foundation. He inspired others with his commitment to his community, to giving back, and to stewardship and leadership. Bruce passed away in 2002 after a battle with cancer.

In memory of Bruce, the Foundation recognizes Ford Scholar Alumni with this award and a $5,000 grant to the organization of the winners’ choice.

Bruce Award winners are outstanding alumni who shoulder community leadership responsibilities without concern for getting credit, and who exhibit steadfast loyalty to the Foundation’s core values of integrity, stewardship, respect, independence and community.

Charity Thoman earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in microbiology from Oregon State University in 2000. She earned both a Medical Doctor and a Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine Degree in 2005 from Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.

She has worked as the Director of Communicable Disease / Deputy Health Officer for Santa Barbara County Public Health Department in California for two years.

“Generosity is contagious,” Thoman said. “I will never forget how many flannel shirts and overalls there were at Kenneth Ford’s funeral.  The entire community of Roseburg was there, including many men who had long since retired from Roseburg Forest Products.” Incidentally, her own father, who grew up in Roseburg, at one time worked there.

Mr. Ford’s generosity and sense of responsibility toward the future generation had a profound impact on Thoman. “Even to this day, it is remarkable to me that the Ford Foundation essentially plucked me out of my poor, small town and sent me to college and to medical school! My healthy sense of indebtedness motivates me to continue to give back to my own community.”

While in medical school, Thoman and a group of students put together a make-shift clinic at the local homeless shelter and halfway house and provided medical care to homeless men and those recently released from prison.

“By them allowing me to see their intimate medical problems and share their humiliating addiction issues, I grew,” Thoman said. “Looking back now, as someone who chose to work for the county so she could continue to serve this exact population, I can trace the root of my current career to the time I spent at Bridge House in New Orleans.” Thoman’s “little project” is now part of the official curriculum of Tulane University School of Medicine.

Three times, Thoman has traveled to Africa as a medical volunteer, including once with her husband, who is a surgeon. She helped start up AIDS in Africa Week through Tulane.

Thoman considers herself a non-profit entrepreneur. “I’m really good at starting and developing non-profit organizations, creating a sustainable infrastructure, and then handing them over to the next generation of volunteers,” she explained.

Thoman started the Obama for America campaign for Santa Barbara County in January of 2007, taking 18 months off her residency schedule to run the full-time volunteer position. Under the close instruction of the national presidential campaign, she developed seven leadership teams, covering the districts of Santa Barbara. After Obama won the primary, she turned the campaign leadership over and returned to her internal medicine residency.

Thoman serves on the Board of Directors for the Santa Barbara County Medical Association; is chair-elect of the Young Physicians Section of the California Medical Association; served a year on the Science and Public Health Committee at the CMA’s annual House of Delegates; and participates in community service events for CMA and the SBCMA.

Thoman also volunteers with Pacific Pride Foundation, a non-profit agency that provides services to those living with HIV/AIDS.

“Often times Pacific Pride is the only thing standing between an AIDS patient and homelessness,” Thoman said. They provide a food pantry; free emergency housing; help running the HIV clinic; and personal counseling to patients. Thoman serves on the board of directors.

Thoman chose the Foundation’s $5,000 grant to be given to Pacific Pride Foundation.

“They operate on a shoe-string budget and provide life-saving services to the people in my county who are most in need,” Thoman said.

Pacific Pride will use the funds to provide food and free counseling services to HIV patients.

“It’s frustrating for me to walk out of a patient’s room, feeling that the HIV medications I prescribe or blood tests I order are not addressing the full spectrum of challenges a new HIV diagnosis brings,” Thoman said. “Fortunately, PPF fills in that gap.”

Thoman runs the Santa Barbara County HIV Clinic and Tuberculosis Clinic and serves as the primary treating physician for patient groups within the Public Health Department.  As Deputy Health Officer, she oversees all infectious disease outbreaks and investigations.

“I hesitate to call what I do a ‘career.’ I am living out my dream,” Thoman said. “It is one of those rare situations where someone’s bizarre and quirky talents are perfectly matched to their profession.”

Twice a week she sees uninsured, homeless and undocumented immigrant patients in the county clinic.

“I call it my Weekly Prioritization Alignment Exercise,” Thoman explained. “It reminds me that although we live in a rich country, we are not yet doing justice by our poorest and most vulnerable. They suffer immensely.”

Thoman calls on her parents, Larry and Katrina Dean, who live on a little farm in Coburg, Ore., to take care of her three small children when she has to travel for work. Thoman and her husband, David Thoman, have three boys: Rocky, Tiger and Bucky, ages 6, 4 and 2.

Thoman said her day job doesn’t drain her – it invigorates her. “Because I find it so energizing, I come home with plenty more to give the children.” She loves “floor time,” sitting on the floor playing Legos or dinosaurs with the boys on the weekends.

“I’m totally fulfilled living a double life as a Super Doctor and Super Mommy,” Thoman said.

She is honored to earn the Gerald Bruce Award.

“I remember hanging out in Gerry’s kitchen after one of our Ford Scholar events in Roseburg. And I remember his love and devotion for his friend Kenneth.”

Thoman is thrilled to see the funds go toward a deserving non-profit.

“I continue to be amazed at how being a Ford Scholar is truly a life-long gift, and every time I think they’ve already done enough for me, they do even more.”