Hometown: Wayne, PA
Why did you apply for this particular internship? Living outside of Philadelphia, I was eager to explore poverty in an urban setting and as a pre-med student, S.O.M.E. offered an incredible environment to learn about both health care and how health relates to human capabilities. Given the changing aspects of the health care system, serving in the nation's capital made for an exciting time!
How did your work apply to your studies at W&L? In terms learning about poverty and human capabilities, I saw my psychology and poverty classes come to life. I found myself revisiting heated topics and can now approach them from a different perspective. In terms of my science and health studies, I was fascinated every day as I observed anatomy and physiology in a variety of intriguing situations. The implications of mental health and the power and limitations of medications that made up a large portion of my experience were particularly enlightening.
What was the most unexpected aspect of your Shepherd Alliance experience? The dependence on the not-always-reliable public transportation.
Post-Graduation Plans: Health Care
Favorite W&L Memory: Sledding with friends during the winter exam week snow storm
Favorite W&L Activity: Tubing down the Maury!
"I'm just trying to live," professed the pre-diabetic patient. After consulting with a diabetic friend who had recently lost his lower limbs to amputation, this patient came into SOME's medical clinic for his physical exam impressively knowledgeable on preventative measures for diabetes. Not wanting to meet the same fate as the friend, the patient hungered for more answers on ways to avoid the seemingly inevitable diabetes that runs rampant, often in a trio with high cholesterol and hypertension, throughout the population that SOME serves. The health educator proceeded to deliver a quick lesson on the importance of a proper diet and exercising. She also gave helpful tips on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle that will guarantee him a long and quality life. At SOME, the mission is not to keep patients alive. The mission, through restoring hope and dignity, is to ensure that they really live.
So Others Might Eat (SOME) is a large not-for-profit umbrella organization that serves the homeless of Washington D.C. The organization offers a medical clinic, a food kitchen, a drug rehabilitation program, affordable housing and job training, among other services. I had the privilege of working in the medical clinic. The clinic consisted of three part-time physicians, a psychiatrist, a family nurse practitioner, four nurses, two medical assistants and lab technicians, a health educator and a few staff members who managed the front desk.
My role involved a blend of both patient care and administrative assistance. One of my larger responsibilities was performing initial patient screenings. Specifically, I would take vital signs, record the patient's recent medical history and present symptoms and perform initial eye exams. I was also able to interact with the patients outside of the clinic by attending and aiding in health education classes throughout the community and serving meals at the kitchen next door. The remainder of my day was filled with office work, like faxing and scheduling appointments, and a couple of projects assigned to me. The projects included creating informative bulletin boards, helping patients complete evaluations of their experience with the clinic and conducting a "wait time" study.
Having spent most of my time in the medical clinic, I can say that the team of care providers is among the hardest-working and most caring group of individuals I have ever come across. Each morning, in order to enter the clinic, I have had to navigate through a thick line of patients who wait outside the building. While patients must schedule an appointment weeks in advance, each day includes squeezing in several "walk in" appointments. These appointments involve patients who have yet to establish care with SOME or perhaps need urgent attention. The willingness of the team at SOME to deliver quality care to so many is the epitome of their mission. Regardless of how understaffed the clinic was (this summer involved a heavy turnover of nurses and physicians, leaving the team short on numbers most days), the care providers, often working through lunch and staying late into the evening, always provided a place for refuge, consultation and restoration for their clients.
Given how busy the clinic always was, I did most of my learning on the fly. I believe that I shocked many of the caregivers when I introduced myself as an undergraduate and only a pre-med student without any past clinical experience! That being said, I am ever grateful for the training I received and the staff's unwavering patience. The "on-the-job" training made for a slower start, but created a rewarding journey as I gained trust among the staff and clients and grew in my own confidence as a caregiver.
As my role in the clinic progressed, each day presented a new challenge and an eye opening opportunity. While the care givers' determination and patients' resilience consistently amazed me, many of the clients have complicated medical histories and stubborn personalities that leave them hopeless and seemingly unreachable. These more challenging missions of restoring hope and dignity to those who need them the most are what gives SOME its character in the community. My time with SOME has exposed me to both ends of the spectrum. I have seen new patients come in broken and crippled in every way possible, but over weeks, months or even years, leave as capable human beings.
I take with me memories that I know I will return to for the rest of my life: the time I screened someone my age who was to be tested for a terminal disease, The time a patient came in for a routine follow-up and left with 14 teeth pulled, the first time a client broke down in tears in front of me, the victory cheers in the exam room when patients see blood pressure values or weight measurements that lie within a healthy range, the way a woman proudly introduced herself with her first, middle, maiden, and married name at my first education class, the time a patient brought a camera to take a picture with the medical team before leaving, the care taken by the kitchen staff in setting each placemat with precision over 100 times in a morning. Behind closed doors, the medical team cares for and transforms patients. They may enter the clinic with nothing, but will re-enter the world with the necessary hope and dignity to really live.
This experience has taught me an incredible amount about health care, the challenges and opportunities that exist in an urban environment, the cyclic relationship between health and human capabilities, and myself. As I leave this service learning experience and return to the classroom to pursue my education and a career, I will not only take with me the memories, but also the perspectives and beliefs I have developed along the way.