Having started his first residency before the moon landing, Dr. Aaron Shirley may not be the youngest in the medical field, but he just may be the most innovative. Whether it was converting a mall into a center for medical services in 1995, or his work in 2010 to adapt an Iranian health care system for rural areas in the U.S., Shirley, 78, has long been concerned with what is effective, not what is traditional.

Aaron Shirley is making history … “by borrowing strategies from a much less developed nation to solve some of our lingering health problems,” says the doctor. In the Iranian-based health house model that Shirley is implementing in Mississippi, medical experts go door to door in their local communities, developing ongoing relationships with the people they treat in the patients’ homes.

With the emergency room serving as an uninsured Mississippian’s expensive first-stop for basic medical care, Shirley’s plan provides disadvantaged populations with options in their own communities. This helps to improve health through regular and attentive quality care that also addresses environmental conditions like sanitation. The medical experts also become community specialists, developing a familiarity with the neighborhood’s health patterns — who is diabetic, who is pregnant, who is susceptible to the flu — offering an uncommon level of intimate knowledge with incredible value to professionals and patients, alike.

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Before he set his sights on revolutionizing community health care, Shirley pioneered the incorporation of clinics in city high schools, which reduced teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, drug, abuse and teenage violence. His high-school-clinic system has been adapted across the nation, and the “Iranian Health House” system — perhaps under a different name — may reach communities across the country soon.

What’s next for Aaron?

Shirley is working with the state to implement the “Health House” system in the Mississippi Delta, while actively petitioning Washington for more substantial funding despite the terms “Iran” and “Health Care” being politically hard to sell.

In his own words …

“The system is broken,” Shirley said about the U.S. health care system, according to the Kaiser Foundation. “It’s time to try something new.”

A little-known fact …

Mississippi desperately needs bright medical minds like Shirley — the state suffers the nation’s highest mortality rate and lowest life expectancy.

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