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In my experience, telling a friend you're going to see a doctor at the University of Minnesota often brings assumptions that you are facing a serious or complex health problem. After all, our university hospitals and clinics are known for being leaders in transplant surgeries, cellular therapies for cancer and innovative treatments for rare diseases.

Many are less familiar with the nationally celebrated care university physicians provide every day through a network of university clinics in Minnesota communities that need access to routine visits as much as any complex care. These clinics are supported largely by our Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, which has trained more family-practice physicians than any other M.D.-granting school in the country over its 53-year history. The department is ranked No. 1 in the nation for its research to improve health outcomes in the neighborhoods its graduates serve.

Currently, 144 residents are training in the university's clinics, and we are working to expand that training to more rural clinics, where they will provide care that is critical for Minnesotans' health and well-being. And because of the university's unique education, research and outreach mission, these residents and all our health care professionals bring innovative approaches, the newest discoveries and a commitment to service to everything they do. We also know health care is very much a team endeavor when practiced well, something called out by the Governor's Task Force on Academic Health at the University of Minnesota and exemplified in our clinics.

In the Twin Cities metro, our five community health clinics have been embedded in neighborhoods for more than 50 years. They reflect the unique health issues and needs of patients and their families.

For example, our Community-University Health Care Center in Minneapolis' Phillips neighborhood is well known for the care it provides neighborhood residents, as well as the training it offers to medical, dental, pharmacy and other university health professional students. By training with compassionate teachers, these future doctors, dentists and pharmacists learn to respect the varied needs of their patients, as well as the strengths of the disciplines that are part of a health care team.

At north Minneapolis' Broadway Family Medicine Clinic, patients shared with our providers their challenges accessing services for substance-use disorders. Their challenges drove one of our physicians to partner with Minnesota's Department of Human Services to develop a highly regarded training for all primary care providers about respectful treatment for those struggling with addiction. Trainees at that clinic also make weekly visits to a local teen shelter, providing care and mentorship for those experiencing homelessness.

On St. Paul's East Side, our Phalen Village and Bethesda Clinics serve a large Hmong population that teaches physicians the value of taking time for community conversations that inform health care decisions. Physicians there frequently see four generations of tight-knit families, building trusting relationships that lead to better care overall.

Five years ago, when Phalen Village clinic leaders learned that patients were having difficulty accessing food supplies, they partnered with the Hmong American Farmers Association to develop a CSA food share program that delivers culturally appropriate vegetables to the clinic each Thursday through the growing season. An added bonus is that clinic providers also are learning about new vegetables to add to their culinary repertoire.

Smiley's Clinic in south Minneapolis has built the reputation of welcoming those who may not feel welcome in other places. Its community includes patients from Central and South America, as well as a significant West African immigrant population. When patients' modesty concerns limited participation in certain cancer screenings, our providers developed a home kit allowing patients to self-swab for cervical cancer testing rather than waiting for symptoms to emerge.

These family-practice primary care clinics proactively adapt to the health concerns and needs of their communities, tapping into the curiosity that has been the hallmark of the U's health sciences programs for decades. In that way, our community clinics provide the routine and needed health care that promotes well-being and, in some cases, reduces the need for emergency care at overburdened hospitals.

These clinics will never be a source of financial profit for the bottom lines of our health care enterprise. But they are critically important investments in service, care and health care workforce development that provide an important public benefit for all Minnesotans.

Dr. Jakub Tolar is dean of University of Minnesota Medical School and vice president for clinical affairs.