NHC Alumni Spotlight: Meet Spencer Robinson!

Posted on: September 19, 2023San Francisco

National Health Corps is a program that has provided an opportunity for future health leaders to learn and grow while providing essential services to marginalized, under-resourced communities in each program's geographic areas. Having been founded in 1994, National Health Corps has an extensive network of alumni that have completed the program and are now supporting health care implementation in different parts of the country. Our Alumni Spotlight campaign is meant to showcase what our alumni have done and are doing since completing the NHC Program!

Introducing the second entry in our Alumni Spotlight series, Spencer Robinson served with NHC San Francisco during the 2020-2021 Service Term. At the time, Spencer served as one of the COVID-19 Responder/Food Access Coordinators with the San Francisco Health Network - Food As Medicine Collaborative, as well as with the San Francisco Department of Health.

Spencer joined Program Coordinator Alan Arroyo-Chavez to discuss his experience with NHC and where that experience has taken him, including a job at a non-profit in San Francisco and, most recently, his Master's of Public Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health!

Read the full interview below to learn a little bit more about Spencer, his service, and his public health journey so far! Thank you, Spencer, for sharing your experience with us, past, current, and future members!


Spencer: Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.

Alan: Glad to have you here, Spencer. We're honored to have you. We've missed you! So, Spencer, to get us started. Can you tell me a little bit about what role you held at NHC when you were a member?

Spencer: I was a Food Access Coordinator and also COVID-19 Responder, because at the time all members in our cohort were asked to support with the COVID-19 response with case investigation calls and contact tracing.

Alan: And what Host Sites were those with, both the Food Access Coordinator position as well as the COVID-19 Responder role?

Spencer: Yes. So, the Food Access Coordinator position was with the Food as Medicine Collaborative. I worked at Silver Avenue Health Center - I served, excuse me, at Silver Avenue Health Center and Potrero Hill Health Center with the Food as Medicine Collaborative and as a COVID-19 Responder, there I served at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Spencer stands to the right of the frame, smiling at the camera. He is standing next to the podium showing the words "Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health"Alan: And before we kind of dive into how those, or I guess the skills that you learned during your experience have applied to future experiences and what you're doing now, I guess, can you share a little bit about what a day to day looked like at the time for you?

Spencer: Sure thing. So, my day to day... So, each day was different. The typical case investigation and contact tracer day with the Department of Health involved a team call that morning where we'd get updates on the number of COVID-19 cases we had and we would receive new updates as far as the best practices to advise people on how to prevent the spread of COVID, and then we would spend the rest of the day calling people who were diagnosed with COVID, and, you know, helping each other over [Microsoft] Teams if we had questions. A typical day as a Food Access Coordinator involved commuting into one of the clinics. You know, receiving our delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables, giving patients reminder calls, printing recipes for patients, and then greeting patients, connecting with them, and then, you know, providing them their food and different nutrition resources.

Alan: Great. Thank you for sharing that Spencer, and I guess my first question for you is, after you finished NHC, what did you end up doing?

Spencer: After I finished NHC, I ended up working at a nonprofit called the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation. That's an affordable housing nonprofit based in San Francisco, and I was super glad to be able to stay in the city, and there I worked for 2 years as a Food and Nutrition Coordinator, and the work I did involved running our food pantry, starting cooking and nutrition education programs, doing youth education programs and also opening a new community food hub in the Mission Bay neighborhood.

Alan: That's amazing work, Spencer. And I guess I'm curious to see how did your skills that you developed at NHC kind of bleed into this new experience and this new role?

Spencer: Okay, good question, so from NHC, I feel like, given that myself and a lot of other members spent a lot of our days interacting with people from the community, we really learned about how to deliver that client-centered care. We learned how to use deep listening to figure out what people needed, and then do our best to, you know, provide services. So, there was a lot of skills, as far as you know, like phone interviewing and how to you know, deliver good service over the phone.

But most importantly, I think cultural humility is like a really big skill, or competency, if you will that NHC really cultivated in me, because at my nonprofit I was still working in San Francisco, but working with a different community, so NHC really prepared me by teaching me how to evaluate myself, be self-critical, self-evaluative, learn how to recognize the power imbalance between the person providing the service and the person receiving the service and try to strive for building a better system. You know, building better institutions that are accountable to the needs of the community.

Alan: Thank you for sharing that, Spencer, and I guess my next question is, what are you doing now? From what I've heard, you're in school, so would love to hear a little bit about that!

Spencer: Yes, I am hitting the books right now! I am a Master’s in Public Health student at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health in the Health and Social Behavior track. So, if you're interested in getting MPHs specifically in like social and behavioral sciences or behavioral sciences and health education, a lot of schools have different names for it, if you're interested in that field, feel free to contact me!

Alan: I love that! And I guess a follow up question to that is, how did NHC, but also your experiences afterwards, how did both of those experiences kind of inform your decision to go down this path? And how are they helping you while hitting the books?

Spencer: Hmm, okay, great, so I can confidently say that NHC is the prime reason why I am where I am right now because one of my friends did NHC the year before I committed to my year of service, and she was a huge resource for me in applying to public health schools. Not only her, but there are 3 NHC alums in total who helped me with applications, helped read my essays, told me about the schools that they were attending. I had NHC alum friends at Berkeley, Columbia, and Harvard to support me. So that was huge.

And then Master’s in Public Health programs require experience, and there's no better on-the-ground experience than working, you know, at community centers, at community health clinics, at Federally Qualified Health Centers working at like nonprofit clinics.

There's I think, very few experiences like NHC. Trust me, I was looking for them! I was looking for experiences to do this work, and I think NHC is definitely like one of the best ways to get experience that will qualify you for an MPH, but also give you an experience that will inspire you, that will set the stage for your career in public health. And that's more important.

Alan: Thank you for sharing that, Spencer. And then I guess it may still be a little early on in the game to ask you, but what do you hope to do next?

Spencer: So, after graduating, I do want to return to working either at the government level, or in the nonprofit sector to support community health programs. I want to work at the local level, and I want to continue to do work that addresses food insecurity and helps people manage thyroid-related chronic disease and advances social justice, food, justice, environmental justice. And yeah, a lot of people in public health, I think, feel, feel similarly. So those are my hopes.

Alan: Thank you for that, Spencer. And the last thing that I have for you before I close us out - in one sentence, what advice would you give to new and incoming members?

Spencer: Okay. This experience isn't just about one year, the battles you fight and the relationships you build may be the ones that sustain you throughout your career. Yeah.

Alan: That wisdom! Thank you for that wisdom, I appreciate everything that you're sharing, so far, too! I know that it's probably been a while since you've thought about NHC stuff, so I really appreciate you coming back and talking to us and talking to me, as well as future members. So, thank you for your time, Spencer!

Spencer: Thank you, Alan. I really appreciated catching up with you!