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Student & Alumni Stories

Personal Excellence

An Asheville School alumnus and doctor gets back to the basics of care.

David Schaffer,’10, MD, is the co-founder and policy director of One Tent Health, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit that provides access to HIV screenings and care. The lessons and mentorship he received at Asheville School have never left him.

That phone call changed my life. It was not a lecture. Instead, he asked me questions. We dove deep into a discussion about core values, life goals, my role in the community at Asheville School, and more. Once we had discussed these questions, he asked me what I should do to work towards achieving those goals. It felt like a light switch flipped, and to this day the conversation we had has influenced my choices and actions.
David Schaffer '10, MD

Tell us about an important mentor at Asheville School and what they meant to you:

Today, as an emergency physician and medical toxicologist, I still use the chemistry concepts I learned from Joe Lambert on a daily basis. Helen Plaehn, my first humanities teacher, challenged me beyond anything I had experienced before. I still remember her sitting down with me one-on-one after I wrote my first paper, and she totally tore it apart! Never once did Helen Plaehn let me get by without 100 percent effort, and I’m extremely grateful for that precedent she set. Josh Perlman, my fourth-form history instructor, kindled my love for music, teaching me guitar on occasional nights and weekends. And of course, Burt Gordon, Dean of Students at the time, offered relentless support; he’s evolved from a selfless mentor to a cherished friend. There are many others I would love to call out but will stop there for the sake of brevity.

A moment of learning at Asheville School that you still think about today:

My classmates might remember that, particularly in the first two years at Asheville School, I was not always the most “well-behaved” student. During the summer before my fifth form year, I received an unexpected phone call from Arch Montgomery, Head of School at the time. We were on the phone for about forty-five minutes. That phone call changed my life. It was not a lecture. Instead, he asked me questions. We dove deep into a discussion about core values, life goals, my role in the community at Asheville School, and more. Once we had discussed these questions, he asked me what I should do to work towards achieving those goals. It felt like a light switch flipped, and to this day the conversation we had has influenced my choices and actions.  

What steps lead to starting One Tent Health?

 When I was a third-year undergraduate student in Washington, D.C., one of my professors showed us statistics on the prevalence of HIV in the city. We were stunned to see rates that rivaled or even surpassed many areas of the world we commonly associate with higher rates of HIV. A classmate of mine shared my intrigue. We noticed that some organizations doing HIV screening were turning people away who were uninsured, which baffled us. A few years later I was a medical student in North Carolina when that classmate and now close friend, Mackenzie Copley, called me up and said he thought we should revisit our ideas to do something about what we saw in D.C. Together we founded One Tent Health, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to HIV screening, linkage to care, and meeting people in the community outside of traditional healthcare settings. We launched in a canvas tent with just a few volunteers in 2017. Now six years later, we’ve amassed over 3,000 volunteers, conducted thousands of HIV screens and more than 10,000 COVID tests during the height of the pandemic, and added additional services such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), naloxone education and distribution, voter registration, and more. All of this happens in the community—outside a grocery store, next to a laundromat, wherever.

What is your proudest accomplishment? 

At One Tent Health, our work over the last several years culminated in a very proud moment for us: My co-founder and I were invited to speak at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) this past February to share our work and experiences with their entire Division of HIV Prevention. We could not believe we had earned this type of recognition and are incredibly grateful to have learned from experts there during the discussion. We hope the future for One Tent Health is even brighter.

What are your goals for One Tent Health in the future?

We have dreams of expanding to other cities where we can operate the same model and have been contacted by health departments in a few of these cities who have requested our presence. Unfortunately, as anyone in the nonprofit space will surely understand, we operate mostly on funding from grants and donors. While we have been very fortunate to receive significant funding over the past six years, we need more funding if we want to continue to grow. If anyone reading this interview feels motivated to offer any support, you can find information to do so on our website at onetenthealth.org. Lastly, Mackenzie and I have begun working on a new project to address the need for increased medication adherence among individuals living with HIV. I would love to discuss this work further with any alumni who wish to learn more or support our mission. Feel free to email at [email protected].