Learning and Addressing Complex Health Problems through Collaboration

Posted on: February 12, 2021New York

Sam cheered as we watched the World Cup at the Ronald McDonald House. As I talked with him, I learned how his family gave up everything to travel to the Mayo Clinic to treat his cancer, which had limited him to a wheelchair. Sam could not get the treatment he needed; he was from a rural area without adequate access to medical care and his family didn’t have the resources to pay. Charity from a local religious organization helped him receive treatment.   

When I was 15, I was diagnosed with AAG, which threw me into a whirlwind of medical tribulations and immersed me in the world of medicine. I traveled to numerous hospitals across the country and stayed for days, often weeks, while physicians tried to figure out how to treat me and endured many grueling procedures. Despite the adversity, I refused to let my condition define me. Rather, it offered a unique perspective on a life filled with a bounty of interests. From a young age, I was innately curious, pursuing broad intellectual interests in science, politics, business, and engineering to figure out how the world works. Further, I had passions for athletic competition and service.

Through my experiences, I met countless patients, nurses, doctors and volunteers, and saw the impact empathetic care has on a patient’s spirit. I saw the passion of medical professionals working as a team to solve a problem and the joy they experienced when innovative treatments proved effective.   

However, I also saw the inadequate aspects of our healthcare system. Like Sam, many patients came from areas lacking adequate resources and sacrificed to obtain treatment. Their hardship saddens me, and I seek to mitigate such disparities. Humanity requires that people from all backgrounds deserve complete care. This perspective drives my pursuit of a vocation as a physician, combining my intellectual curiosity and commitment to service to address complex healthcare problems.  

My short two months serving with Sun River Health have been a wonderful and illuminating experience as I work toward this mission. Seeking to address food insecurity and the associated health effects I have collaborated on a team of diverse individuals from fellow AmeriCorps members, physicians, nurses, nutritionists, social and IT workers, and receptionists. From outreaching to patients and working with physicians to schedule appointments for follow-up appointments and food insecurity screenings, developing educational resources with nutritionists, or organizing and running healthy food distributions with social workers, I have come to understand how difficult it is to implement a program and the many moving parts where things can go wrong. However, through a team approach, we can work to address the needs of the community. Also, through my service and NHC trainings, I have further seen how the health problems faced by patients run much deeper than the clinic. The social determinants of health play a huge role in dictating health outcomes. Even if it is as simple as when I give a free bag of fresh produce to a patient and they are overjoyed, I think back to all the work that went into that moment and the eventual impact it will have on the person’s well-being. I am proud to be on a team that is working to make a small contribution to mitigating social factors in dictating an individual’s health.     

Looking back at my younger self watching the World Cup, I realized how naive he was. I am still the same person with broad interests and a passion to solve problems to better the lives of others. However, the subsequent experiences in my life, specifically serving with NHC, have made me realize that one person cannot solve complex medical problems. I know the importance of community and collaborating with others to solve such problems like food insecurity. My short time with NHC has informed my perspective and allowed me to better understand how to move forward. I am looking forward to learning and serving more and I know the experience will be invaluable in my future vocation in medicine to address problems in service to others.   

James Bathon serves with the Feeding Westchester program and with Sun River Health as a nutrition educator.  

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