As a Health Educator at Erie Family Health Center-West Town I am responsible for coordinating and teaching a range of topics including Breast Health Support, prenatal care groups, and car seat safety classes. Each of these topics was new territory for me, especially car seats, but I was confident that with proper training and certification I would be fine. And I was...until it registered with me that all of this had to be done in Spanish. Introducing myself to my breast health group was relatively easy, so I assumed that teaching car seat safety would be the same. I rehearsed my presentation multiple times to ensure that I wouldn’t stumble over any words. But I stepped up to the projector and froze. I was about to speak on a subject that ultimately determined the safety of kids in Chicago when they got into the car. I was nervous; I was uncomfortable.
To go from only speaking my native tongue, English, to using Spanish as my primary language daily was a huge learning curve for me. But I realized, the only time you are actually growing is when you’re uncomfortable. In order for me to ensure that I was successful in attending to the needs of those I was serving I had to learn how to communicate effectively with my patients of diverse cultures, backgrounds, and histories. This required me to practice my Spanish skills daily, be okay with saying things incorrectly, and most importantly ask for help. I found that most of my patients were appreciative of the fact that I was eager to learn from them and attempting to become better at speaking their native language. Over time many of them became more comfortable with my presence and shared personal stories with me. These situations helped me develop effective communication skills when conversing with people of diverse backgrounds, which will ultimately contribute to me being a familiar face when serving underserved communities in the future.
Breaking your old mold can only make you stronger and more confident to reach higher levels in your professional and personal life. In my case, my position at Erie West Town is doing just that. Serving at Erie West Town has reinforced my core values of empathy and the importance of being an ally. Whether it be listening to a mother explain why she is unable to purchase a car seat for her newborn, allowing patients to grieve over the return of their cancer, or simply heeding to woes of Puerto Rican families recently displaced by hurricane Maria, each of these situations has exposed me to so many different stories, and I am incredibly grateful for that. They have given me a chance to grow. When it comes to unfamiliar situations you can either be comforfortable and stagnate, or be uncomfortable and stretch yourself. I chose the latter, and encourage others to do the same. Whether it be a from new skill, a different culture, or a new perspective: allow yourself to become uncomfortable. These things will leave you vulnerable and humble your spirit, but most importantly they will help you grow.
This blog post was written by NHC 2017-18 member Krysten Sessoms.
Krysten is a Health Educator at Erie Family Health Center - West Town and Humboldt Park.