Associate Dean for Educational Affairs
"I was supposed to be a radiology resident," recalls Professor Michele Pugnaire, MD on a recent afternoon at Community Health Connections. Dr. Pugnaire, currently Senior Associate Dean for Educational Affairs and Director of the UMMS Simulation Center, smiles frequently as she reminisces about her years as a medical student at McGill in Montreal. "Family medicine was not really promoted as a specialty back then," she points out. "I was pursuing radiology ...but, I was also aware that there was something missing."
The career trajectory that has led to a distinguished thirty-year career at UMass Medical School begins in Arlington, MA where Dr. Pugnaire was raised. Upon her 1980 graduation from McGill University Medical School, she completed a rotating internship at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. It was while working in private practice at Fort St. John General Hospital in British Columbia that the Massachusetts native made a fateful phone call.
"It was the first time I encountered family medicine in practice," she says, and, with the realization that she might have indeed found what had been missing, Dr. Pugnaire placed a call to the UMass Worcester Family Practice Residency Program. "Dr. (Daniel) Lasser, who was then the Residency Director, picked up the phone and was very receptive," she laughs, a conversation that led to her matching in 1982 at what was then named the Barre Regional Family Health Center. She stayed on as an attending in Barre until 1987 and then worked for the next ten years at Gardner Family Practice. In 1997, Dr. Pugnaire joined Fitchburg Family Practice and Obstetrics before arriving at Community Health Connections in 2001.
Of the many leadership positions she has held at UMMS mentoring medical students (including Clerkship Director, Vice Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education and Associate Dean of Admissions) Dr. Pugnaire's first educational role was as the founding director of UMass' longitudinal preceptor program. Responding to a need which existed for ambulatory care experience for medical students, she became the program's first director and one of its first preceptors. "There were only ten to twenty students at the beginning. Now it is one of the medical school's marquee programs," she says with pride. Dr. Pugnaire has maintained her commitment to medical education, traveling each winter to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip with faculty colleagues and UMass students.
Dr. Pugnaire still treats patients she first cared for when she worked in Barre in the 1980s and Gardner in the 1990s. Now residing in the town of Harvard, MA, her next move is likely to be no further than the brand-new health center building that is approaching completion mere yards away from where she sees patients every Tuesday.
UMass has a strong commitment to education and a track record of excellence in primary care," Dr. Pugnaire emphasizes. Looking back once more to her days as a student doctor at McGill, she
adds, "Working at a federally qualified health center in Massachusetts is the closest I can get to the universal coverage of the Canadian medical system."