I graduated with my MPH from Boston University (BU) School of Public Health in January of 2008. At that time I was working on a public health research project at BU, an occupational health screening project for former workers of Department of Energy Laboratories.
While I loved my job, I wanted something with more clinical exposure, in an environment where I could “give back”. I initially searched for volunteer opportunities, but eventually came across the AmeriCorps program called Community HealthCorps. The program operating through the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers was a perfect fit.
I serve on targeted outreach efforts, such as blood pressure and cholesterol screenings for at-risk community members, insurance enrollment, food pantry visits, and teaching community classes on healthy lifestyles. In addition, I help patients to better manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma and chronic pain so that they may have a better quality of life.
My AmeriCorps year has been one of the best, and most difficult, years in my life. I have been so fortunate to be at such a wonderful health center, where each day brings new challenges and new rewards. As a Community HealthCorps member, I have been exposed to all areas of health center, and have been given the opportunity to engage with a diverse patient population and community.
When I began the year I never imagined that I would have had the opportunities to be involved in the kinds of projects I’ve completed. My experience as an AmeriCorps member has allowed me to serve my community and better understand the underserved patient experience, while growing personally and professionally. Overall, the experience has reinforced my desire to become a primary care physician and work in a community health center, and I will use my education award to do just that.
One of my most notable Americorps experiences was with the Health MOVES van, a health screening, outreach project affiliated with Northeastern University. Nurses and nursing students use the van as an educational and research tool, while also serving Boston and surrounding communities. They offer HIV testing and counseling; testing for other STI’s, Hepatitis C and TB; vaccination for Hepatitis A and B; and flu shots. While it is an education experience for the students, the mission of the van is to bring health care to the normal underserved and hard to reach population. This includes homeless and migrant, injection drug users, or any individual seeking health services free of charge.
The goal was to make sure each of the participant’s needs were fulfilled. One example of was of a Mandarin speaking participant who came in with his sister to translate for him. He had only been in the country for 18 days, and we were able to set him up with health coverage. His health condition turned out to be severe and he was referred to a health center for a same day appointment.
Throughout the day I held witness to a roomful of dedicated, compassionate people. From registration to the exit satisfaction survey, the participants were cared for and treated respectfully by the staff. For this population, their own health care may be the least of their worries. This project brought health services out to them. When you pair health screening and insurance enrollment, with follow up appointment scheduling there is a chance to provide complete care, a person finds a medical home.
My Community HealthCorps experience has opened my eye to all aspects of health care in a community health center. I have learned that caring for an individual takes a community, because many resources come into play. This health van was an opportunity to see it all come together.
I am very excited about United We Serve Health Week and National Health Center Week. Since I have a passion for service and have set out to become a public health professional, any kind of “health service week” gets me excited. I think it is a great time to recognize and honor those who work and serve in community health centers. Along with our outreach team, I have helped plan National Health Center Week and United We Serve events for some time. We hope for it to be a week of thanking staff, honoring patients and engaging the community in volunteer and service opportunities.
We are going to have a table at a different Manet Community Health Center site each day of the week with health education, a quiz game, give-a-ways, health snacks, and reach out and read books and information, and patient satisfaction surveys.
For more information about Community HealthCorps, please visit www.communityhealthcorps.org. You may also follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CommHealthCorps and become a fan of ours on Facebook: www.facebook.com/communityhealthcorps.
Visit NACHC’s site http://www.healthcenterweek.com/to find out about Health Center Week events near you.