As my year at NHC comes to a close, I think about how much I have grown and learned in this past year. I started shadowing at Health Center #6 in high school to get exposure to how a city health center operated. Though my interactions with the patients and doctors were brief, I recognized the impact that the doctors were making in the lives of these patients. I knew I wanted to come back to see more and learn more. Thus, I decided to spend my National Health Corps year back at Health Center #6. This Health Center has given me intangible life lessons that I will take with me wherever I go.
One of the most significant lessons I have learned while serving at the Health Center is the importance of being an advocate for patients. For example, although my job does not mandate this, I frequently find myself calling medical providers to help my patients schedule surgeries and appointments. I do this because I find it increases the likelihood that my patients will follow through on their appointments and get the care they need. At the end of the day, that is all that matters. Nancy* came to me distraught because she tried applying for Children’s Health Insurance of Pennsylvania (CHIP) on her own and her kids were rejected. Low-income children who are citizens of the United States and Pennsylvania residents should qualify for CHIP. I explained this to my patient and stressed how we would contest this decision and I would help to review all the paperwork personally. I assured her that based on my evaluation, her children should have qualified. Eventually we were able to get them insurance. This allowed Nancy’s children to receive the necessary medical treatment and preventative care they needed.
Besides the insurance world, I also find myself navigating additional steps in the medical care of my patients. Many times when my patients receive papers from their physician, they come to me because they are unsure on what to do next. For those who are not comfortable with the healthcare system in the United States especially, the medical terminology can be daunting. Often times they become confused on the differences between their primary care doctor and the various specialists and how to navigate between all of their doctors. Helping them to schedule appointments and review their paperwork help ease my patients’ minds. This has taught me that although some things may seem easy and obvious to those of us working in the medical field, they are sometimes abstract and confusing ideas for our patients. Taking the time to go the extra mile to explain things or make an additional call for our patients really impacts the care they are receiving. My goal with all of my patients is to make the health field a little less daunting and a little more manageable.
Another imperative lesson I have witnessed firsthand is how someone’s health truly affects their overall wellness. Bob* came in with a bilateral hernia and was in immense pain as well as did not have insurance. Because of the severe pain,he had to stop working and lost his job. Because he lost his job, he could no longer afford to pay his bills and live in his house. He quickly became homeless moving from shelter to shelter. Bob initially came to seek my assistance in getting health insurance in order to remove the hernia. It was truly eye opening to see how a procedure like a hernia removal, which for anyone with insurance would be a simple surgery, was now a major life altering issue. However, since my patient did not have insurance, it led him to a downward economic spiral with devastating consequences on his whole life.life His health prevented him from living the life he could have been living if he simply had insurance.
These daily experiences have influenced the way I will interact with my future patients as a doctor. I have learned the importance of understanding that patient care does not end when their appointment ends--there needs to be continuous communication and culturally sensitive care to understanding the various barriers patients face.