Seasons Magazines

Seasons Magazines

William Rabitaille, M.D.

St. Francis - Chief of Primary Care, Dr. Bill Rabitaille - 11/3/2022. Photo by Stan Godlewski

By Margaret Burke  /  Photography by STAN GODLEWSKI


“Trinity Health Of New England has a robust primary care provider group that is open and accepting new patients,” stated William Rabitaille, M.D., Trinity Health Of New England Medical Group’s chief of primary care for the Hartford region and lead physician for the organization’s Safety Net Clinics. In this role, he oversees 10 Trinity Health Of New England primary care practices and three safety net clinics in the Hartford area.


Dr. Rabitaille said his role is, “to assure patients get the same quality of care regardless of which location they visit, and that all the practices continue to carry out our mission to serve as a healing and transformative presence to our local communities.”


Each Safety Net Clinic at Trinity Health Of New England has its own unique approach, he explained. The clinics range in their patient population and the specialty care they offer. For example, the Family Medicine Center at Asylum Hill provides care to adults, including obstetrics, and to children. Burgdorf Health Center Clinic, located on the Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital campus, provides separate adult and pediatric services as well as specialized HIV-related care. The Gengras Clinic at Saint Francis Hospital provides adult primary and medical subspecialty care as well as surgical subspecialty care. Dr. Rabitaille explained that all of the clinics also provide a valuable educational opportunity through a partnership with the University of Connecticut, where medical residents support various aspects of the care provided in each clinic. Dr. Rabitaille’s role in the partnership is to serve as a liaison between Trinity Health Of New England and the university.


Each Safety Net Clinic is a prime example of Trinity Health Of New England’s approach to living their mission. The clinics serve individuals who may have barriers to accessing health services or are at risk of facing health disparities. These barriers may be economic, geographic or social. In comparison to a typical primary care practice, the Safety Net Clinics have more nursing and social work resources to support the specific needs of each individual they serve. No patient is turned away due to inability to pay. Also, while these clinics do schedule appointments, some have “open access,” meaning they allow for walk-in visits.


Dr. Rabitaille grew up in Groton, Conn., until the age of 13 when he moved to Daytona Beach, Fla. His mother is a cardiac care nurse and always conveyed her love of medicine. In addition, two of his aunts are physicians, so medicine was always presented as a possible career path. Even so, when he started his undergraduate studies at New York University, he hadn’t totally ruled out pursuing law as a profession because he had an interest in policy development. However, as time went on, Dr. Rabitaille found he enjoyed and performed better in the science field, which made attending medical school a natural progression for him. He attended medical school at New York Medical College and then went on to a 3-year internal medicine residency at Boston Medical Center.


“I knew I wanted to be an internist from the very beginning. I just loved so many aspects of internal medicine,” he exclaimed. However, he didn’t enter medical school or residency with the specific desire to do primary care. At one point, he considered specializing in gastroenterology or rheumatology. “But what I loved the most out of my entire residency experience was going to my weekly continuity clinic. It was where I always felt most at home.”


Dr. Rabitaille remembered one particular situation that really cemented his desire to be a primary care physician. One of his regular patients, who was having a difficult time in his life, dropped by his office without an appointment. He wanted to talk to Dr. Rabitaille about what he was going through and said, “I’m telling you because you’re the only one who cares about me.” Fortunately, Dr. Rabitaille was able to help his patient at this dire time, and the event made a lasting impression.


“I found it to be such a powerful moment with a doctor-patient relationship that I just couldn’t get past it,” he said. This made him realize how primary care doctors can really impact the lives of their patients.


Even though Dr. Rabitaille was having difficulty deciding whether he wanted to pursue primary care or a specialty, it was clear to those around him that he was destined to be a primary care physician. His parents, his best friend and his girlfriend at the time (now his wife) all said, “Why are you thinking about doing a specialty? You know you are a primary care doctor!”


Dr. Rabitaille noted that only two people from his residency class opted to pursue primary care. He explained that to be a primary care physician, doctors have to complete an internal medicine residency, as he did, or complete a 3-year family practice residency. In their 2021 annual report, The Association of American Medical Colleges projects that the nation will face a shortage of primary care physicians by 2034 somewhere in the range of 17,800 to 48,000 doctors.



Returning to His Roots

Dr. Rabitaille comes from a large extended family and is the oldest of 25 cousins. Although his parents reside in Florida, he still has family in New England and his wife’s family lives in Fairfield County, which made it a natural fit to look for a job in Connecticut. He was initially hired by Trinity Health Of New England in 2017 to be the director of the Gengras Clinic. He was attracted to the job because he is passionate about providing high-quality care to underserved populations. He also loves to teach.


One thing Dr. Rabitaille teaches residents is that aside from being clinically solid and developing a strong, trusting relationship with patients, organization is essential to being a good primary care doctor. He explained the importance of keeping a handle on any active problems for a patient as well as having a system in place for tracking ailments that may not be currently active but could arise again in the future. It is also important for an internist to recognize when it is appropriate to call in a specialist. Dr. Rabitaille noted that there are multiple subspecialists that have designated days at the clinics; patients are referred to them as needed.


Even in his role as chief of primary care, Dr. Rabitaille continues to see his own patients and observes patients alongside medical residents. He spends about half his time providing direct patient care and the other half in his leadership and administrative roles. The latter duties give him a chance to put his interest in policy development to work.


Advancing Care

Since becoming chief in September 2021, Dr. Rabitaille has focused his efforts on three areas:

  1. Getting the word out about the availability of primary care services. Currently, Trinity Health Of New England provides a mix of in-person and telehealth visits. Some patients are better served in person while the telehealth option improves access for patients who might not have the ability to get into an office.
  2. Leveraging electronic resources to advantage the patient. Patients can communicate with providers through the use of MyChart, even on a mobile device. Through MyChart, patients are able to make appointments online, as well as see test results, physician notes and prescriptions.
  3. Developing a team-based model of patient care. In addition to nursing and social work resources available at the clinics, there are medical assistants, advanced practitioners and other health professionals, such as clinical pharmacists, to provide care. Dr. Rabitaille explained that one of his goals is to have a regular team for patients so they are able to establish a relationship over time and maintain stability of care. He wants patients to feel comfortable calling and knowing they will speak to someone they recognize.


Margaret M. Burke, Pharm.D., BCPPS, is a freelance medical writer with more than 25 years of clinical pharmacy experience, including board certification as a pediatric pharmacotherapy specialist. She lives in Manchester.


Stan Godlewski is an editorial, corporate and healthcare photographer based in Connecticut and working primarily between Boston and New York City.