Serving The City I Grew up In
Serving as a National Health Corps member in the city that I grew up in has given me an entirely new perspective to my community. Growing up, I spent most of my time in a suburb to the south of the city, and from afar I thought I had a good idea of what Jacksonville was all about. Over the nine months of my service term, I was regularly much closer to the city itself and the people in it. I had the opportunity to work with and get to know patients, doctors, and other colleagues from all over Jacksonville. It’s through these relationships and conversations that I learned much more about my community and how the social determinants of health affect people just miles away from the neighborhood where I grew up in.
Towards the beginning of my service term, patients’ stories and experiences were put into perspective after we completed an NHC training activity called “A Walk in My Shoes.” We were tasked with going to a free clinic in downtown Jacksonville, given the address and a day pass to the city buses. After around 45 minutes of walking and navigating the bus system, we arrived only to find out that the clinic did not take walk-ins and if we actually needed healthcare we would have had to wait a week and would need to present a pay stub as proof of employment. While my host site is not a clinic exactly like the one we visited, it still has many patients that are uninsured or underinsured that could find themselves in this situation. I have also spoken with several patients who have to rely on the city’s public transportation for every appointment. Having to go through this process to seek healthcare, although just an exercise, really gave me a new understanding of the reality for many people in our city.
I remembered that experience every time I had to talk with a patient as a Community Health Liaison at Ascension St. Vincent’s Family Medicine Center (FMC). Whether that was in the hospital, the FMC, the Way Free Medical Clinic, or at Mission House Jax where I volunteered outside of service, there were always patients that needed resources apart from traditional healthcare. Much of my role was to merely document that these needs exist in our community in order to advocate for more robust social services at my host site as well as in the city as a whole, however, I was also able to provide patients with community resources in an attempt to address some of their concerns. Although I was far from being able to fix everyone’s situation, the times when I was able to help were very rewarding. Sometimes patients were thankful that I even asked because they said nobody had ever asked them about it before.
As I transition from National Health Corps to medical school, I will absolutely take every experience and conversation I had with a patient with me. Not enough doctors today consider the social determinants of health of their patients, and I want to be one that does. Outside of medicine, my time at NHC has driven me to want to be more involved in my community, wherever I am. One of the most important lessons that I learned this year is that you don’t have to sail oceans or cross continents to find people in need. You can simply drive 30 minutes or so to your closest city and find plenty. My service year completely changed my perspective on my community, and I look forward to continuing a life of service wherever I am.