From being home schooled on his family’s small farm to today where he’s leading innovation in healthcare, Richard “Rick” George Newell has always been dedicated to his work and family.
“Growing up on the farm really instilled a solid work ethic early on," Rick says. "As soon as I could walk, I was out with my dad at 5 am every day cutting firewood.” The farm not only provided needed income for his family, but the garden also put food on the table.
It was this dedication that would eventually take him from Belfast, NY, known for being one of the most impoverished communities in America, to the halls of Harvard and beyond.
Growing up in the “Middle of Nowhere”
Rick was born on July 9, 1976 to Richard Newell and Laura Lee Wells. His father was a math teacher at Erie Community College and his mother worked in the business office for Houghton College, which was also their alma mater, Rick's grandparents' alma mater, and that of his aunts and uncles. Rick was followed by a younger brother and sister, Ryan and Krista.
Rick spent his early years being homeschooled by his mom. As it turned out, his curriculum and schooling was far more advanced at home than it would have been in the public system. This advanced knowledge came in handy after his parents divorced, which led to him entering the public school system in 8th grade. Facing new pressures to assimilate and socialize, Rick’s facility with learning and love for sports helped him to make new friends. He was the valedictorian of his class and played soccer, basketball, tennis, and golf.
Following in the footsteps of many in his family, and because it was free since his mother worked there, Rick attended Houghton College where he majored in biology and minored in business. Of all the things he learned while at Houghton, one of the most surprising was that he needed corrective lenses. “Our high school class size was less than 20. I didn’t realize I couldn’t see because the classrooms were small and I could always see the board," Rick recalls. "Then I went to college and I couldn’t see anything because I was in the back of the class. I learned this is why I would always hit the baseball down the first baseline. I couldn’t see the ball coming!”
A Natural Problem Solver
After graduating from Houghton, Rick chose to attend med school at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo because of its strength in clinical medicine. While attending SUNY, he lived at a small house his father owned, which was 45-minutes from campus. During this daily commute, Rick noticed that a nearby community lacked resources—especially access to medical care. This led to him, along with med school classmate, to start a free clinic by getting drug companies to donate medicine, supplies and dollars; churches to donate space; and even a local family doctor to donate time as the supervising physician. Now known as the Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic, it continues to serve the community of Buffalo and is run by current students of the SUNY medical program. For his work in starting Lighthouse, Rick was awarded the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award.
Wanting to balance out his clinical training with more business training, Rick took a short leave of absence after his third year in med school in order to get a Master’s degree in Public Health and Health Care Administration from Harvard. Upon graduation from Harvard, he returned to Buffalo to finish his medical degree and graduate top of his class, again.
Rick did his residency at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Long Beach, CA, where he met Phil Piccinini, a senior resident who helped recruit him to a fellowship at a company called CEP America. Both Rick and Phil have spent their careers with CEP, now known as Vituity, and remain friends to this day.
Rick attributes most of his success to his ability to adapt. “Whether it was problem-solving socialization at school or a free clinic for the neighborhood," he says, "I was able to identify gaps and figure out solutions.” This natural gift came in handy when he was tasked with helping Vituity to transition to telemedicine. “We started out only seeing one patient per day, and we were excited about that," he says. "Now, we’ll see over one million patients this year alone! It’s about creating impactful solutions that make a meaningful difference.”
Marriage and Personal Life
Rick is happily married to his wife, Kimberly Rusina. They have one daughter, Sophia Rusina, who is 10 years old. They live in the Bay Area and enjoy dining out and traveling to places like Hawaii, Lake Tahoe, CA, and back to western New York where Rick was born and raised. Of all his accomplishments, Rick says his family makes him the proudest. “Looking back where I came from, all the things that led up to where I am now," he says, "I’m really thankful for them."