Marie Ghazal ’77

Major: Nursing

Career: Chief Executive Officer, Rhode Island Free Clinic

A framed newspaper photo of her at the Jenks Park playground in Central Falls commemorates the moment Marie Ghazal’s big idea to improve lives was born. She was a nursing student at URI then, showing children how a stethoscope works on Health Day. As the daughter of working class, immigrant parents, the indelible memory of that day in 1975 inspired her life-long career in community health.

Marie’s career evolved from the first nurse researcher with Pawtucket Heart Health Study, to director of the Central Falls Health Center, to vice president of patient care at Providence Community Health Centers. Now, she’s Chief Executive Officer of the Rhode Island Free Clinic, and her big idea today is to “reach a point in health care when everyone is insured without a lottery system as we have here.” She’s referring to the Clinic’s monthly lottery for new patients held to randomly choose who among the many applicants will become the newest Clinic patients to receive care there. How many depends on funding – every penny of which comes from donors and partners – and volunteers.

Ghazal spends her days forging those relationships and leading the Clinic’s volunteer provider model. More than 600 volunteer doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, and medical support staff share her vision and help provide care to low-income, uninsured RI adults. Her board and a very lean administrative teamwork tirelessly to secure the Clinic’s $1 million annual operating budget and more than twice that in donations of in-kind contributions. Fortunately, Marie’s leadership and the Clinic’s growing reputation attracts such partners as URI, CVS Caremark, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Lifespan, Care New England, Tufts Health Plan Foundation, Amica, Claflin, TACO and many more.

Although it was decades ago, Ghazal says that the foundation she got in community health at URI is still a driving force in her career even today. “URI helped me then, and helps its nursing students now, to prepare for the changing environment in health care.”



Shirley Cherry M.L.S. '75 grew up poor in the segregated South, banned from attending school or walking into a library. On a 100-acre farm where peaches and cotton grew in the Alabama heat, Shirley’s grandmother operated a school and library for the children.