UCLA Spotlight




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Carol Archie, Venice Family Clinic

  • By Cynthia Lee, Reed Hutchinson
  • Published Aug 1, 2003 8:00 AM

Carol Archie’s easygoing demeanor belies her true calling. Every day, she walks a high-wire tightrope on two levels, fighting to keep her balance against forces that are sometimes beyond her control.

An OB-GYN specializing in high-risk pregnancies at the UCLA Medical Center, Archie helps pregnant women who suffer from complications — ranging from schizophrenia to substance abuse — deliver healthy babies. Also under her care are mothers with fetuses that are abnormal in some way or at risk.

“In a lot of ways,” explained the associate clinical professor, “you need to be a risk-taker because some of these women are patients no one else wants to touch.” In some instances, there are no set guidelines to fit their circumstances, she said. “You need to use your best instincts and medical skills.”

Archie has taken on another risky venture as board chair of the largest free clinic in the country, the Venice Family Clinic. In this battle, she is in a ceaseless struggle to keep the doors of the clinic open to the uninsured.

The clinic, which relies on private donations and county reimbursement to treat nearly 10,000 uninsured poor people, was headed for hard times earlier this year when the county threatened to end a partnership with the clinic that would have cost it $3 million in reimbursement for patient care.

That would have caused great hardship, said Archie. “But we have such a strong message and a well-run operation, and we are blessed with such great volunteers. We will prevail.”

For the time being, the funding from the county seems secure, but the unstable state of health care means Archie must always be vigilant.

The clinic, with close ties to UCLA’s schools of medicine, dentistry, public health and nursing, is a cheery, sunlit, welcoming place where Bruins — undergraduates, grad students, medical students, faculty and administrators — train or volunteer.

Archie became involved with the Venice clinic shortly after she arrived from Detroit, where she had obtained her M.D. (from Wayne State University) and completed her residency. Shortly after she started a fellowship in 1987 at King/Drew Medical Center, she was asked by her supervising director to help set up a prenatal program at the clinic.

Archie has been a source of support ever since. Today, the free clinic, where some of the best doctors in the city volunteer, she boasts, “runs like the nicest practice that you’d ever want to work in. I love the level of care and the dedication I see there.”

After finishing her fellowship in 1989, she was offered a faculty position at UCLA. Archie, who is married to Edward Keenan, chair and professor of the Department of Linguistics, continues to teach because of the many women she sees whose doctors have erroneously advised against birth control because of their medical histories. The physicians fear the pills might worsen the women’s medical conditions or interact with medications they must take. “When they get pregnant, they come to me, torn up by the dilemma of wanting to keep their babies, but not being unable to,” Archie said. “It’s totally unnecessary. I could have given them a birth-control plan.”

So for all the medical students who don’t become obstetricians, but will care for such women, Archie pushes one message above all: If you don’t know, ask somebody who might.