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My MCW Story: David Nelson

“To whom much is given, much is expected.” 

David Nelson, PhD, MS, is passionate about the concept of community. It is woven into his research, his teaching and many of his other professional and personal endeavors. Talk to him for a length of time, and he will share the quote that fuels this passion: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

David Nelson“Almost everything has an element of community,” the 10-year MCW faculty member shared. “It’s exciting to work with community partners to teach them about systematic research and learn about their needs, their goals and how they do things.”

Dr. Nelson is associate professor of family and community medicine who leads many of MCW’s community engagement efforts. As part of this work, he partners with public and private organizations to enhance learning, research, patient care and the health of the community. Much of this work involves leaving campus and going to the places where the people he wants to help live, work and play.  

“Meeting community members in their environment helps me to see how we can work together, and gives me a better understanding of the issues,” he said. “At the end of the day, our efforts in community engagement are about supporting health. Luckily, I am surrounded by an amazing team. We may not all be able to leave the office, but we all go out into the community together.”

His efforts in the community are focused around his research, which includes working with community partners to increase physical activity, improve access to food, and increase social support. The community partners he works with are located in La Crosse, Eau Claire, the Fox Valley and Milwaukee.

Dr. Nelson was originally drawn to MCW while serving as an outside reviewer for the Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program. At the time, he saw an ad for a MCW community engagement fellowship and applied. He started at MCW as a postdoctoral fellow, then became an instructor, assistant professor, and was promoted to associate professor two years ago.  

“I have been very fortunate to work with some luminaries in community engagement, including Dr. John Meurer, who is still a mentor, Dr. Cheryl Maurana, Dr. Linda Meurer and Dr. Syed Ahmed. Nobody does it alone,” he said. “I love what I do and am fortunate to be able to work with people who are amazing and much smarter than me.”

In addition to working with community organizations and members, Dr. Nelson teaches classes for the PhD program, the MPH program and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute of Southeast Wisconsin (CTSI). He is proud of the students he is able to mentor and tracks their professional progress.

“Everyone I work with has an orientation to the community and how it impacts health,” Dr. Nelson said. “I am proud I’m able to help set up the next generation to be community-engaged researchers.”

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