116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Deb Ralston has long worked in the medical field, but the work she does today — both professionally and as a volunteer — is the most fulfilling, she said.
“I went into medicine to help people and make the world a better place,” said Ralston, a family practitioner.
She worked in private practice for more than 20 years while raising her family.
But upon moving back to Eastern Iowa — she lives in Shellsburg — about five years ago with her family, Ralston connected with the Peoples Community Health Clinic in Waterloo and began providing medical services to underserved populations.
Some do not have insurance. Some do have insurance but cannot afford to pay the deductibles, she said.
“It was now my time to work with more marginalized people, or people who fall through the cracks, the uninsured or under-insured,” she said. “I am so thankful to be at this point in my life.
“I get so much more out of it than I feel like I give to other people. It's just so humbling to see how hard people are working.”
That could mean helping monitor a patient’s diabetes or high blood pressure, completing a doctor’s note so that someone can return to work, or overseeing the physician assistants who also work in their clinics.
Upon moving back to the area, Ralston also connected with another organization, Cedar Rapids RISE, or Reintegration Initiative for Safety and Empowerment, when looking for a place to donate some beds she no longer needed in her own home.
The organization helps people who recently have been released from prison get back on their feet with bus passes, job interviews, housing, and food. That also led Ralston to volunteering her time with the Community Health Free Clinic in Cedar Rapids.
Ralston said she aims to make a difference, one person at a time.
“I feel like it's a great honor and privilege to help people that just need to get through a difficult time in life, whether it is coming out of jail or prison or people with substance abuse or mental health issues, or even just taking care of their annual exam or accessing birth control pills,” she said.
“I don’t think many people realize how diverse our communities are. There’s a whole fabric in the community of people who are working really hard, whether they are washing dishes at the restaurants you go to, or they are attending community college, or they have come from Sudan or the Congo or Mexico, or they are a single mother. Everyone is working so hard to make a life here, trying to support their families.”
Ralston said she is thankful to have connected with two mentors in the past several years — Maridee Dugger, who worked with RISE, and Darlene Schmidt of the Community Health Free Clinic.
“I’m so lucky to have watched these empowered women and be inspired by them,” Ralston said. “They are so inspiring because they are always trying to help someone, non-judgmentally providing what people need, caring for people who fall through the cracks.”
Ralston said she hopes to emulate their approach to caring for others and perhaps inspire others herself.
“I do wish our health care was different,” Ralston added. “I’ve seen people afraid to get care because they don’t have health insurance or they don’t have the right doctor or they have come from a different country. I’ll see the terror on their faces and their worries about their finances and their families.
“Every day I get to work with those just out of prison or jail, immigrants, migrants and refugees, and those with no insurance and those with mental health issues and I feel honored and privileged to do the work I do.”
Business 380 spotlights HER magazine's Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.