“Jess! Room 4 needs an urgent blood transfusion, but she doesn’t have insurance,” one of the nurse practitioners at my host site called from the hallway of primary care. “Can you go in and talk to her before I send her to the ER?” I walked into the room to find a pale woman with huge bags under her eyes, appearing as though she was struggling to stay awake. Carol* introduced herself distractedly and we proceeded to work our way through a Medicaid application together before she left for the emergency room.
A week later Carol was back at the center for a follow up appointment. When I walked in, her face broke out into a wide grin, her eyes bright and her cheeks flushed with joy, “Jessica!” She exclaimed, “You guys saved my life here, thank you so much for everything.” Carol’s application had been approved and would provide retroactive coverage to pay for the urgent care she had received at the ER. Carol’s case is a great example of how coordinated care and integration of services can improve health outcomes for patients. The primary care department at the 11th Street Family Health Services of Drexel University employs a wide range of services, including medical care, behavioral health support, and social services, among others. The open line of communication between these disciplines allows us to employ a multifaceted approach to provide a higher quality of care to our patients in the moment that they come in for an appointment. My heart filled with warmth when Carol’s nurse practitioner said to me after her follow up appointment, “This is a true success story; this is why I do this job.” Although it is not every day that we get to see such clear and immediate rewards of our work, her statement reminded me of the importance of acknowledging and appreciating our successes and the positive impact that our service has in patients’ lives.
Of course, things are not always so simple and it often takes a great deal of patience and persistence to support patients in obtaining social benefits and improving their access to healthcare. The opportunity to work with an underserved community this year and to observe firsthand how social context affects health outcomes has given me a newfound motivation to devote my career to public service. I came into this year with aspirations to become a physician, but my service term has motivated me to go beyond this to pursue an MPH degree in addition to an MD degree so that I will be prepared to address health issues at a community level in addition to an individual level. Despite the challenges and frustrations of working with vulnerable populations who face unfair hardships and obstacles, it is all worth it when I get to see patients like Carol’s smiling faces as they walk down the hallway of primary care feeling confident in their ability to take care of themselves and remain healthy. Although it is important to acknowledge the adversity that our patients face and the stress that comes with it, I have learned this year that it is equally important to celebrate successes and to remain optimistic as challenges may come.