In a lucky scenario, paying it forward will prompt the next person to do the same, and before you know it, 10 or 20 people down the line will have been positively impacted. This continued act of service is similar to an aspect of my experience at Maria de Los Santos where I serve to educate patients about the importance of utilizing preventive health services, namely cancer screenings. Alongside another member, I connect patients with resources and information in effort to help them be more proactive about their health and in return, I have gained a greater understanding of the various ways a patient’s environment (built and sociocultural) impact their health.
My host site received a grant from the American Cancer Society this past October to provide funds for patients to have the means to complete cancer screenings for breast, cervical, and colon cancer. In most cases at Maria, uninsured patients have been able to complete screenings because of the funds. I made a point to say “have the means to complete” because simply subsidizing a screening test or procedure does not mean that the patient is still able to complete it. To do this, the patient has to physically come into the clinic and if transportation poses an obstacle either because the patient does not have a car or is unable to use/afford public transportation, then obtaining that screening becomes more taxing than tangible. Likewise, a patient who is given a referral to schedule a mammogram or a colonoscopy has to be able to get to the hospital or facility where the procedure will be performed. Sometimes the facilities go beyond a manageable mile radius, and the standing order for that procedure remains just that: standing. This idea of budgeting transportation was something I overlooked at first, but I now see how impactful it is, as well as how it illustrates the importance of equity when considering a patient’s access to health.
My fellow member and I have worked to maximize our roles and time to organize the logistics of using the grant to ensure patients are able both access and follow through with screening services. Additionally, we have personally and purposefully designed the education materials and work-flow so that patients are included in the conversation of health. Personally, I feel that my service here has been a tool of patient-empowerment where patients (through collaborative efforts) become more informed on the importance of safeguarding their health, while preventive health screenings (through the grant) enable patients to have adequate means of completing them.
Apart from having funds available, one last component of my service that increases preventive services is the relational aspect. Oftentimes when I provide education for a patient, I am also educating another family member(s) or caregiver accompanying the patient to the appointment. Through this interaction I have learned that sometimes the best approach to raising awareness is one that is indirect. The conversations about cancer/cancer screenings create a space for the sharing of narratives that expose the hardships current or former family members had with the cancer/health condition being discussed. I see that these conversations continue beyond the walls of the exam room into discussions at the dinner table, family gatherings, social gatherings, or even on the bus. My time spent educating and conversing with one patient can indirectly reach ten more, and through maximizing my ability to connect resources to patients and making such time intentional with a patient is how I plan to continue paying it forward.