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!
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.
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.