This service term with AmeriCorps has given me invaluable boots-on-the-ground community health experience. As a recent college grad, it’s rare to find an opportunity that offers such hands-on service. On my first day, I was meeting with my own patients, assisting them in obtaining medications and connecting them to health education, insurance specialists and social workers. On an average day, I meet with anywhere between three to ten patients, many of whom are uninsured and living in under-resourced areas of the city. Many of my patients also speak English as a second language, or don’t speak English at all, so sometimes to communicate I have to rely on interpreters.
Certainly, the most valuable and cherished part of my role is the ability to meet one-on-one with patients. In this setting I can learn about their health needs, listen to their stories, and build more than merely a transactional relationship. It is one thing to read about the struggles of low income families, immigrants, and the disenfranchised in school, books, articles, and the news; but, it is another thing entirely to put these struggles to a face, a name, a story, a connection. While I may not personally experience many of the difficulties my patients face with our healthcare system, I assist those who do, and thus have gained insight into healthcare issues and helped where the need is greatest. For example, I have a clear and more personal understanding of why the Affordable Healthcare Act is crucial. The fact that insurance coverage is on the line for 20 million Americans is no longer an abstract idea, but a reality for many of my patients with whom I interact on a daily basis.
I think it is easy, especially as an educated, well-resourced young adult, to get caught up in the conventional, and continue to work within a singular perspective. It takes a bit of boldness and a leap of faith to work with unfamiliar communities, dealing with issues that perhaps one has never been personally exposed to. I can say without hesitation that my decision to serve with AmeriCorps has been enormously positive and rewarding, albeit challenging. Not only have I helped make the lives of those I serve in West Philadelphia healthier, but I have gained skills and perspectives that will allow me to continue to fight for equitable health care as an informed emerging health leader. I have often thought that, if I do not use my opportunities and privilege to help those less fortunate, who will? This is what motivates me and many of the other members of NHC to serve. Given all that is going on in our country and the world right now, joining AmeriCorps is an ideal way to strengthen communities, cultivate empathy, and promote cultural sensitivity. Not to mention the work is also a ton of fun and provides endless opportunity for growth!
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This blog post was written by NHC Philadelphia member Blaire Frett.
Blaire serves as a Patient Advocate at Philadelphia Department of Public Health-Ambulatory Health Services Health Center 3.