Addicted to Volunteering: My journey from Student Volunteer to AmeriCorps Member

By Laura Lee White, Community HealthCorps® Member, Heart of Texas Community Health Center (locally known as Family Health Center)

I began volunteering with Family Health Center (FHC), as a pre-medical undergraduate student at Baylor University. The time I spent there always proved to be the highlight of my week. I served by alleviating some of the burden felt by FHC employees. I filed, faxed, organized, copied, and filled in wherever was most helpful. The experience allowed me to witness the work of highly intelligent and compassionate physicians and provided me with the motivation to continue working hard in my studies. I saw the work of the physicians and hoped to one day be able to make an impact, just as they did every day. During my senior year of college, I knew I did not want to go to medical school immediately, but instead wanted to challenge myself in a way that would leave a lasting impact on the community. This is when I discovered the Community HealthCorps® program!

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Laura (far left) with a group of student volunteers she recruited, trained and engaged in serving at Family Health Center as a part of her role with Community HealthCorps.

I joined Community HealthCorps®, because I believed it would afford me the opportunity to achieve my goals while continuing to volunteer. My AmeriCorps position at FHC is designed to give me access and flexibility within the clinics, while also providing me direct patient contact. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I counsel and educate patients living with diabetes on proper nutrition, exercise, and medication management. I really enjoy this part of my position because it allows me to interact with patients and is wonderful practice for my future profession as a doctor. The other aspect of my position is to coordinate the health center’s volunteer programs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This is what originally drew me to this particular role because my previous volunteer experience had such a positive impact on me, and I wanted to increase access to the health center’s volunteer opportunities, so that others could have a similar experience.

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Laura helping student volunteers promote childhood literacy to families during wellness visits at Family Health Center as a part of her role with Community HealthCorps.

When I started with Community HealthCorps® last September, 40 Baylor pre-medical students volunteered at only two FHC clinic sites. I knew there was room for improvement, and I became passionate about expanding the programs for two reasons. First and foremost, it would benefit the clinics. FHC operates on a fixed budget, and every employee works tremendously hard each day to serve as many patients as possible. Our student volunteers are not trained in any particular field; instead, they call patients to remind them of appointments, organize office spaces, sanitize exam rooms, and so much more, offering the gift of slight relief to our employees. Second, from personal experience I knew that the opportunity to volunteer also benefits the students. By volunteering at FHC, they are exposed to the lives of those that need care most and witness the amazing ways that others are meeting those needs. Students learn about the many aspects of medical care and the impact that primary and preventive health care can have on a community. These aspects make this volunteer program a perfect symbiotic partnership.

Since the fall, I have more than quadrupled the size of the volunteer programs! Presently, seven of the 14 FHC clinics have a volunteer program with over 200 volunteers in total. That’s a 400% increase in the number of volunteers helping to increase the capacity of the health center! Each volunteer is provided with intensive training and orientation before stepping foot in a clinic, which I helped to implement this year. This massive growth has reaped incredible rewards.

As I had hoped when I began service as a Community HealthCorps® Member, my volunteers have expressed that the opportunities they have had at FHC have changed their outlook on medicine, inspired them to work harder, and pushed them to help others in significant ways. These are just a few quotes from students reflecting on their time of service:

  • “By observing the FHC providers, I now have a vision for what kind of doctor I desire to be one day.”
  • “I now understand that family medicine is on the frontline of improving the health of a community.”
  • “The mission of FHC is inspiring, and it is one that I would also love to work towards as a future physician.”
  • “The opportunity to volunteer at FHC was the most impactful experience I’ve had while at Baylor. It has shaped the doctor I hope to become.”
  • “Through volunteering, I see how you can form deep, meaningful relationships with your patients.”

It’s clear that this experience has deeply impacted these students and shaped the future physicians they will soon become. It is an honor to be able to provide these opportunities to them. Serving in Community HealthCorps® and creating a sustainable volunteer program has been the most rewarding time of my life thus far, and I look forward to seeing how it carries through my future career as a physician.

 

Posted in AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, Heart of Texas Community Health Center, national service, National Volunteer Week, volunteer | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

National Public Health Week Highlight: Butter, Old Bay and a Hospital Bed

By Rachel McAuley, Community HealthCorps Member®, Salud Family Health Centers

NPHW-1024x768In honor of National Public Health Week, Community HealthCorps® is highlighting the great work our AmeriCorps members do every day to increase access to and quality of healthcare through their service at Community Health Centers.  By sharing stories from three Community HealthCorps® Members reflecting on the meaning of their service, we hope to raise awareness of the immense contribution each Member makes within the public health field during and after their service terms.

Our final story comes from Rachel McAuley, serving with the Salud Family Health Centers Community HealthCorps team in Fort Lupton, Colorado, where she specializes in transitions of care.

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Rachel-BlogPhoto“How old are you?” he said, groggily waking up from a deep sleep as I entered his room. As I explained my role as a Community HealthCorps Member at Salud and my purpose in visiting him, I noticed he wasn’t listening to me. Instead he was looking at me from head to toe, assessing me quizzically. “Are you 16?” Trying to divert this comment, I insisted on explaining my role on the Transitions of Care team. At the end of my long winded explanation, he dismissed me from his room, mentioning his doctor’s care and the excellent team at the hospital. “I just don’t think I need you.”

I entered my next patient’s room with an air of defeat. However this time, I was pleasantly surprised. What started out as an elevator speech introducing myself and my role, quickly transitioned to fishing and the beach, two topics we both had experience with and loved. We spoke of east coast summer days and fresh crabs steamed over a back yard stove caught by hand out of the bay. She spoke of the mornings she would wake up and surf, walking barefoot all summer long, joking about her now swollen and calloused feet. It was more than just a stroll down memory lane; I learned so much about her in such a short amount of time. Nurses entered and exited the room, poking and prodding at her IV tubes and it was like she didn’t even notice. “Just warning you I’m giving another injection” the nurse said, warning me of her patient’s anxiety, but she was so passionate while explaining her stories, she didn’t even notice.

For an instant, I forgot why I was actually in this patient’s room, and quickly getting back to topic, offered up the idea of a home visit. “I don’t like hospitals because every time I’m here someone dies,” she said. “I won’t be next…so when do you want to do that home thing you were talking about?” she asked.

Although we explain our role to our patients – why we are visiting them and how we deal with transitions of care – there is profound depth to the relationships we form with them. Our role is fostered by our connections, our connections are fostered by our service, and while a hospital census gives us a patient’s history, we don’t really know who and why and how they ended up there until we hear their story.

That afternoon I was feeling uplifted and simultaneously saddened by my hospital visit earlier that day. Upon initial appearance, this woman was overweight, had yellowing eyes, and could barely pull herself out of bed. But as she told stories of running through ocean water, hauling carts of crabs out of the bay, faces smothered with butter and old bay, it was like she had transformed before my eyes.

This is perhaps one of the most profound ways being a part of Community HealthCorps at Salud has impacted me thus far. It’s so easy to become jaded in a hospital setting, where it seems as though sometimes the numbers, data and charts are the lens through which these patients are seen. I feel fortunate that our role on the Transitions of Care team allows us to view our patients through the patients’ eyes, not just as a body in a hospital bed. Bridging this gap between the patients’ hospital stay and their transition back home is crucial in not only maintaining their health, but in fostering these relationships that open the window into their health beyond the parameters of a medical facility. It’s more than just a “service,” it’s embedding yourself and your heart into a community, and after a few short months with Salud I strongly believe this is where the future of medicine lies.

Posted in AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, National Public Health Week, national service, Salud Family Health Centers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

National Public Health Week Highlight: A Story of Warmth

By Simone Geraud, Community HealthCorps® Member, Sea Mar Community Health Centers

NPHW-1024x768In honor of National Public Health Week, Community HealthCorps® is highlighting the great work our AmeriCorps members do every day to increase access to and quality of healthcare through their service at Community Health Centers.  By sharing stories from three Community HealthCorps® Members reflecting on the meaning of their service, we hope to raise awareness of the immense contribution each Member makes within the public health field during and after their service terms.

The second story in our series comes from Simone Geraud, serving with the Sea Mar Community Health Centers Community HealthCorps® team in Aberdeen, Washington, where she specializes in community resource assistance and patient navigation.

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Since joining Community HealthCorps®, I’ve had a number of unique experiences. Simone-BlogPhotoHowever, my first in-depth patient encounter remains one of my most memorable interactions.  It occurred around the second week of my service year, when I was still trying to navigate my new position and figure out my role. I was surprised–not to mention, nervous—when an email popped up on my screen: “Patient looking for assistance wants to talk to you.” I grabbed the community resource guide I had kept within arm’s reach since day one and headed to the front desk.

The “patient” turned out to be an elderly couple seeking heating assistance. They lived outside of town in a house whose only source of heat was a wood stove. Normally the couple would collect wood on their own, but a slew of health problems had left them with limited physical capabilities.

I assembled their information and began searching for options. My task was not perceived as optimistic by some; when I told a coworker of my endeavor, they expressed concern that I was putting time into a lost cause. I replied that I didn’t want to throw in the towel just yet.

I made calls. A lot of calls. I found an organization that would insulate their home and two different sources that provided heating materials. The last phone message was the most rewarding, as I told the couple that I’d found what they were looking for. Both of them were incredibly happy and grateful, and they agreed to follow up with the resources.

I thought that was the end of the story for a while. Weeks went by, and I quickly became busier juggling prescription assistance applications and planning a health fair. One day, I logged in to see another email: “Come to the front desk, someone wants to say thank you!”

It was the couple. As soon as I walked in, the man turned to me and said “Lady, I don’t know how we can thank you. We’re getting two hundred dollars for heating a month. And not just firewood, they’re giving us these fancy fuel logs!” I smiled and blushed (which they teased me about) and said I was happy that they’d found something.

I’ve had enough experiences by now to know that patient interactions don’t always end so positively. Sometimes patients fail to follow through. Sometimes you can’t find the things they need, no matter how intensely you search. But every so often you get an experience that inspires as it teaches. As I continue my year of service, I often reflect on my initial encounter as a reminder that determination can lead to effective outcomes.

 

Posted in AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, National Public Health Week, national service, Sea Mar Community Health Centers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment