Advocacy, Adaptability, and Affirmations: Reflections on my Service Term
In my search for a gap year position, I sought out an experience in community health that would allow me to form meaningful relationships with patients while promoting the health and wellbeing of communities historically and systemically undervalued and under-resourced. Thus far, my term as a Senior Patient Advocate at 11th Street Family Health Services has been incredibly rewarding and growth-oriented.
My position description includes a variety of projects: assisting with insurance enrollment and navigation, supporting patients applying for public benefits like SNAP, completing social determinants of health screeners and connecting patients to useful resources, and supporting 11th Street’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Though many cases follow similar trajectories, each patient’s circumstances are unique. As a result, I have been constantly learning throughout my term – how to request a transfer to accessible housing through the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA), where to obtain a free size 5X coat, or where to enroll in a free adult GED program. My service has shown me the importance of flexibility and persistence when working with inefficient social services systems or overburdened community organizations.
As an advocate, a key component of each of my conversations with patients is active listening. Beyond building trust and providing emotional support, I can also consequently individualize the support I provide so that it centers a patient’s priorities and goals. Based on each patient’s preferences, I have strived for a balance between advocating for them and sharing with them tools and knowledge to advocate for themselves. In empowering my patients in their health and medical care, emphasizing their autonomy is essential. I have also developed my skills in supporting patients facing challenges with no direct solutions, such as the scarcity of affordable and safe housing options in Philadelphia. Sentiments my patients have shared have shown me the value of simply knowing someone is in your corner.
It has been important to recognize the small victories – getting a patient one step closer to health insurance enrollment, helping a patient feel heard, or finally connecting with a patient with unstable phone access. This mindset extends to affirming my patients in their personal victories and strengths – reminding them that their dedication to their family members, their persistent self-advocacy, or their hopeful attitude is admirable and valuable, particularly amidst the challenges they may be facing.
Throughout my term, I have been motivated by the connections forged with patients and by each small victorious step forward. I have also been inspired by colleagues at my host site and in my cohort who are dedicated to fixing ineffective systems and promoting the best health outcomes possible for the communities they serve. I am so grateful for the people I have encountered, the skills I have developed, and the knowledge I have gained, and I am eager to draw on and build upon my experiences as a future medical provider.