Little did I know that being trained and mentored by our very own AmeriCorps Alumni at UF Health would be such a blessing and make for an incredible first two months as an AmeriCorps member! Rebecca Ratusnik, former 2016-2017 AmeriCorps National Health Corps-Florida member at UF Health, currently works as a Healthy Start Research Associate and serves as the AmeriCorps Host Site Mentor.
Rebecca has certainly made my transition to Jacksonville and as an AmeriCorps member a smoother one than I expected. Her dedication and passion in serving women and their families has inspired me to strive for more in not only my service term but also in my future career goals. In this interview, Rebecca shares about her overall service term experience and how it has influenced her future aspirations.
Where are you from and how did you hear about AmeriCorps?
I am originally from the Orlando, FL area. As a senior in college, I was considering a number of options for a “gap year,” or the year after graduation in which I planned to apply to medical school. I was certain I wanted to do something that would allow me to help patients on a daily basis and I was seeking something that would help me to clarify what I was most passionate about in the medical field. Initially, I thought about using my biochemistry degree to work in a lab or seeking out a job in a medical office. I was also very interested in international service with the Peace Corps; this interest in service, partnered with knowing someone who had served with AmeriCorps, ultimately lead me to the AmeriCorps website. As I researched more, I was amazed at how many programs fell under the AmeriCorps umbrella. I was inspired by the incredible things members were doing across the country. At the heart of it, it felt like a program for people who were passionate about investing in a better future by serving.
Why did you choose the National Health Corps AmeriCorps Program?
Gaining experience in the medical and public health fields was a priority for me, but I actually hadn’t heard about NHC until I researched a little deeper into different AmeriCorps programs. Once I found the NHC website and read about the host sites and member’s blogs, I felt an instant connection to NHC’s goals, particularly that of “service learning” in the medical field. I also knew I wanted to serve in Florida because it has always been home to me (and it’s where I hope to one day practice as a doctor), so it felt like a natural fit to serve the FL community. Then, when I read more about UF Health – Healthy Start as a host site, I knew it felt like a perfect fit for exploring my interest in maternal/child health. My interview with UF’s mentor further confirmed that it was where I was meant to be!
What was one of your “wow” moments during your service term?
While there are so many small “wow” moments I can reflect on in which I had wonderful interactions with expectant moms and was able to serve them in meaningful ways, I would say that a big-picture “wow” moment for me was actually a conversation I had with my former AmeriCorps mentor. She told me she had attended a training in which someone had used the term “cultural humility” as opposed to “cultural competence” to describe how we, as providers, should approach serving patients with backgrounds different than our own. This shift in thinking resonated so much with me because “competence,” at least to me, had always seemed as if we were saying that we understood someone else’s lived experiences, whereas “humility” is this beautiful idea that we should approach each patient with an open mind, acknowledging what we don’t know (and never will fully know), but keeping an open mind to learn from the person who knows the patient best – themselves. This was something I had felt all year, but never had a term to describe, until that point.
What is your current position at UF Health?
Several weeks after my service term ended, I became a fulltime employee at UF Health in the Healthy Start department where I had been an AmeriCorps member. Even though I can now officially say that I “work” there instead of “serve” there, I’m still connected to AmeriCorps because I am the mentor for our two new AmeriCorps members, Jayash and Rasika! I have loved getting to train them and learn all about them. AmeriCorps is such an integral part of our department because they bring a fresh set of eyes for how we can bridge even more gaps in services for our patients. I feel lucky to be able to invest in the members’ career goals and hopefully help them have a meaningful service term.
What are your future plans?
In addition to working and mentoring, I am also preparing to apply to medical school this coming year. I would love to become a pediatrician or an OB/GYN.
How has your AmeriCorps service term influenced your career goals?
It’s funny to look back at growth over time because it’s hard to see day by day, but when I reflect on myself at the beginning versus the end of my service term, I can see how much my term changed me. Completing a service term with AmeriCorps has been, by far, one of the best experiences I’ve had in my personal and professional development. When I began my service term, it was my first daily experience within the healthcare field, apart from volunteering in college. One of my goals had been to become more confident in both myself and my career goals. Personally, I feel that by overcoming challenges throughout my term, having the wisdom of my mentors, and gaining friendships along the way, my term made me a much more confident and resilient person. Professionally, I can certainly say that each interaction I had with the pregnant moms and mothers of newborns our program serves cultivated a deeper conviction to make maternal/child health a focus of my career. From witnessing so many of the barriers underserved patients face in accessing healthcare, I also realized that I want to make social justice advocacy and health equity research a primary component of my future career.
Do you have any advice for prospective AmeriCorps members?
1. Believe in your ability to be a change-maker, even in small ways. Be an advocate not just for yourself, but for others.
2. Follow what you’re truly passionate about. (If you find yourself saying you’ll be doing something just “because it will look good on your resume” DON’T DO IT!)
3. Don’t run from the challenges and failures that you might encounter during a service term because if you persevere, you’ll look back and find that those were the moments of your greatest growth. Similarly, see those challenging moments in the lives of the patients you serve as moments of huge potential for growth.
4. Make a conscious effort to actively listen before speaking or questioning.
5. Above all else, always be kind to others and remember to find the time to be kind and patient with yourself as well!
This blog post was written by NHC FL AmeriCorps member, Jayash.
Jayash serves at UF Health-Healthy Start as a Care Coordinator.