New Perspective

One of the primary reasons why I joined the National Health Corps (NHC) was the opportunity it offered to diversify my perspective. As someone entering the field of medicine, my primary aspiration as a physician is to be able to effectively advocate for individuals from all walks of life. My firm belief is that you cannot effectively advocate for someone unless you have taken the opportunity to speak with them and learn their story. My time at Gateway Community Services and within NHC has reinforced this belief.

Growing up, I was fortunate to come from a privileged background. My basic needs were always met, and I had a great support system that laid the foundation for me to obtain the success that I have had in life. For a significant portion of my life, I have lived in a world where extreme struggle and hardship were not something that I was familiar with. For those I initially encountered where these circumstances were the norm, it was easy at the time to be judgmental and to write these individuals’ lifestyles off as the result of “poor choices.” My perspective grew through the various volunteering and clinical experiences I was involved with in and after college, and I realized just how incredibly wrong I was.  However it was not until I entered NHC that my eyes fully opened to the struggles that exist in our communities for these populations.

As a patient navigator at Gateway, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the difficulties that individuals who come from underserved and vulnerable communities face. Many had faced extreme hardship and devastating loss where it seemed unlikely that they ever had the opportunity and support to rise from these circumstances and succeed. The image they painted of the world contrasted sharply from the one I was familiar with, and it was quite the wake-up call that I am grateful to have received.

While the first half of my service term at Gateway provided me with a new perspective, the latter half offered the opportunity to see just how impactful my service could be. After transitioning from the detoxification center to the medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic, it was a common occurrence where I would speak with patients who I had initially met in detox. The change in the individual was always a night-and-day difference. Once homeless, isolated from friends and family, and struggling with addiction, these patients would now speak to me about their new transitional housing, the reconnections they had made with their support networks, and their several months of sobriety. These interactions were always a powerful testament to the care and support Gateway provided. It was truly rewarding to know that I had helped initiate their journey towards recovery.

My service term taught me how I can utilize the privileges I have been offered in life to make an impact. After hearing the stories of the patients I served and seeing the detrimental effects socioeconomic factors can have on an individual’s life, I do not want to stand idly by hoping for solutions to develop on their terms. I am eager to continue to generate positive health outcomes for these populations as a physician in the future. I truly believe that NHC and Gateway have helped me realize this life mission.

This blog was authored by NHC Florida member John Toms.
John serves at Gateway Community Services as a Patient Navigator.