At an April 19 ceremony in Washington, D.C., Shirley Ryan AbilityLab medical resident Annette Grotheer, MD, MPH, was honored as one of the National Minority Quality Forum’s “40 Under 40.”
Dr. Grotheer — a member of the class of 2024 at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) Residency Program— is the founder and CEO of The Shop Docs, a nonprofit that arranges for doctors and medical students to provide education and health screenings to customers in the waiting areas at barbershops and beauty salons in minority communities.
The Shop Docs’ mission, Dr. Grotheer said, is to overcome historic distrust of medical professionals and “meet people where they are.”
This is not the first time Dr. Grotheer has been honored for her work with The Shop Docs. In 2020, she was named to Forbes’s “30 Under 30: Healthcare” list and The Root’s “Most Influential African Americans in 2020” list.
While Dr. Grotheer said the experience of having doctors in barbershops and salons can initially seem “weird” (“People might think, ‘Why are these students here?’”), she chose barbershops and salons as the locations for healthcare outreach for very good reasons.
“First, while they’re waiting, they’re a captive audience,” she said. “Plus, more than any other institution in the minority community, this is where people talk about everything. They're gossiping, spreading news, whatever.”
Another benefit, Dr. Grotheer said, is that owners of these important small businesses tend to be trusted members of the community.
“Local barbershop owners and salon owners have a really good sense of what community needs are, and they're really good advocates for us to work with,” Dr. Grotheer said. “Honestly, people would trust barbers with their lives. If someone messes with their cut, they're not happy.”
Dr. Grotheer explains that the idea for The Shop Docs came while she was studying at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, pursuing a Master of Public Health degree and medical degree. There, she saw firsthand the tragic outcomes wrought by the lack of access to medical education and preventive medical care.
“I just kept seeing patients who had these terrible, preventable things happen to them. When I would get a new patient and see their long list of comorbidities on their paperwork, I would think, ‘This is probably a minority patient.’ And, lo and behold, they were almost always a minority,” Dr. Grotheer said. “I really felt that our health system was failing people because it’s so challenging to maneuver. It really came from that experience, and my wanting to start something to help people. So, I took $300 and bought some supplies and started going to the shops.”
Now — seven years later — The Shop Docs has provided its services in more than 20 barbershops and beauty salons in cities like Washington, D.C., Chapel Hill, N.C., Philadelphia, West Palm Beach, Fla., Patterson, N.J., Dallas and Memphis. The organization also has worked out of locations in Chicago, most recently including Larry’s Barber College and Principle Barbers in North Lawndale.
As Dr. Grotheer enters her final year of residency at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, she plans to enter physiatry with a specialty in pain management — while also continuing her role with The Shop Docs.
“My dream is for someone to turn to their friend and say, ‘What's your blood pressure?’” she said. “Introducing these conversations in the barbershop is super important because it can bring important topics to the forefront. We can talk about our health; it's not a taboo topic.”