Mary Frances Dennis
- Major: Politics and International Affairs
- Hometown: Augusta, Georgia
In her first week on the job, Mary Frances Dennis was sitting with a physician and an administrative assistant, helping them complete an affidavit that would allow a patient’s case to proceed to court.
Dennis is the first intern assigned to the new South Carolina Medical Legal Partnership (MLP), which formally connects Furman University, the Prisma Health and South Carolina Legal Services in work to improve health outcomes for people throughout the Upstate, especially those living in poverty.
The partnership—the first of its kind in South Carolina—coordinates and streamlines access to non-medical assistance when a medical problem has roots in or is made worse by a social or legal problem.
“For someone who wants to go to law school or medical school, you couldn’t ask for a better experience,” Dennis said. “I’m learning something new every day.”
The MLP acknowledges the reality that time spent in a doctor’s office is only a small fraction of what goes into a person’s overall health.
“It’s recognizing that the fullness of healthcare policy has to be concerned with a lot more than healthcare,” said David Gandolfo, a philosophy professor and chair of the poverty studies program at Furman. “We believe that it really is a way of getting better health outcomes for the poor."
Gandolfo is confident Furman students bring the maturity and skills needed to the MLP. Their liberal arts training has prepared them to connect unconnected dots with innovation and new thinking.
The work interns observe and participate in will not only be useful to the MLP but also in shaping students’ understanding of their own potential.
“It gives the students the chance to engage a real problem where real people are being hurt and get a feel for how can their talents and energy and their knowledge be used . . . to make people’s lives better,” Gandolfo said. “It’s really motivating to see that your studies make you useful.”
On her side, Dennis is paving the way for future interns, building the job description as she goes.
“It’s my job to say, ‘This is what I want to do. Can I do this?’” she said.
It’s a dream come true for Dennis, who’s the daughter of a nurse but the first person in her family with an interest in law.
“I’ve always been interested in how health plays a role in people’s overall success,” she said. “It’s potentially what I want to do with my career - so I feel pretty lucky.”