I went to college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, a farming town of just under 6,000 nestled between the Allegheny Mountains and the Susquehanna River. As a student at Bucknell University, a private and pristine liberal arts college plopped in the middle of this conservative small town, I felt as though I was trapped in a bubble. Even so, I can’t complain – my college experience was invaluable for many reasons, not the least of which was the opportunity to aggressively pursue my interest in medicine. I participated in health-impacting laboratory research, accumulated clinical shadowing and volunteer experience, and completed a three-month internship in a primary care facility. However, upon graduation, I knew I needed to escape the Bucknell bubble and engage in immersive direct-contact patient care, to undergo real-world experiences that transcend the tidy confines of Bucknell’s campus.
My experience as a patient advocate at Health Center 10 has done exactly that. In the melting pot of Northeast Philadelphia, the patient population that I serve is an incredibly diverse mix of immigrants hailing primarily from South and East Asia, Latin America, South America, and western Europe who speak seventeen different languages. As examples of my service over the past six months, I have helped a tired Chadian mother of three young children receive a $700 autoimmune disorder medicine at no cost and provided free inhalers to an elderly and asthmatic African-American woman on the brink of becoming homeless. I have also written letters to a pharmaceutical company questioning a transgender woman’s denial from a program offering Truvada for PrEP and communicated back-and-forth for months with the County Assistance Office to get the correct paperwork needed for a diabetic Bangladeshi’s insulin application.
As I am now entering my final month as a patient advocate with the National Health Corps, I have started to reflect on my experiences as well as look ahead to the start of medical school in August. More than anything, serving at Health Center 10 has given me the opportunity to help patients, day in and day out, in the same type of medical setting where I hope to pursue my career. Through this experience, I have become increasingly passionate about supporting underserved communities and will continue to use the lessons I have learned to guide me throughout my medical career.