Outstanding Alumni Award: Offering Comprehensive Healthcare to the Underinsured

Dr. Gary BickfordAugust 2011—“Earning my Ph.D. in Health from Walden University opened doors for me,” explains Dr. Gary Bickford ’97 who received Walden’s 2011 Outstanding Alumni Award. “When I realized I could be successful as an adult learner and I wanted to retire, I set my sights on giving back to society.”

But retiree is a misnomer for Bickford. After a 25-year career with DuPont and Dade Behring, conducting research and lecturing about new medical products and testing procedures, Bickford earned a master’s degree in nursing and opened his first health clinic.

“There are not enough primary care providers in Tennessee,” Bickford explains. “I wanted to serve the medically underserved: those without insurance and those on TennCare and Medicare.” Healthy Life Clinics serve patients of all ages and income levels. If Bickford can’t treat patients personally, he will connect them with a provider who can.

Bickford doesn’t stop at in-person point-of-care. He has a long, successful track record with research that started at Walden, which he uses to counsel his patients when they make decisions about their health.

His dissertation, Decentralized Hospital Laboratory Testing in the 1990s: An Exploratory Survey of Southeastern United States Hospitals, was a gateway to this career. In it, he offered a perspective on testing that was widely adopted by the industry. “My research showed that it was too dangerous and too hard for nurses to bring point-of-care testing to the bedside,” he explains. “As it turns out, the industry agreed did not adopt this model.”

His current research homes in on everyday issues. It’s part of the holistic approach he integrates into the culture of his clinics. In particular, he has tackled smoking cessation with his patients. “Approximately 88% of my patients smoke. The national average is 20%. Tennessee’s is 25%. My patients are four times the national average,” Bickford explains. As a result, he is co-authoring an article to encourage his patients—and the greater public—to quit.

Bickford also plans to continue his research on dehydration. “A year ago two-thirds of my patients were dehydrated. They primarily drink caffeinated drinks, not water,” he says. “I talked to them and showed them the dangers of not having enough water—kidney stones, constipation, urinary tract infections and fainting.” And his work is paying off. As a result of patient education, he’s reduced that dehydration number to 5%.

What’s his ultimate goal? To franchise the Healthy Life Clinics. “I want to enlist others to help me make an impact on the lives of the people who need healthcare the most,” he says. “I’ve already met my personal goal of serving the medically underserved. The best way for me to multiply my efforts is to help other people do the same thing.”

About the Award
The Outstanding Alumni Award recognizes a Walden graduate who exemplifies the Walden scholar-practitioner model and who has made exceptional contributions to his or her profession, discipline or community since graduation.

Read more about the Outstanding Alumni Award and past recipients.