It’s hard to pick just one story from my time as a Patient Advocate at Health Center 5. There was no single defining moment; the past 10 months have been an accumulation of small but meaningful patient interactions. Many were heart-warming and some were heart-wrenching, but I am grateful for every single one.
I’ve listened to patients tell me stories about their lives and loved ones. I’ve celebrated with patients when they were finally approved for prescription assistance programs, sometimes after weeks of paperwork and appeals and uncertainty. I’ve encouraged patients, like the man who was desperate to quit smoking but couldn’t afford cessation medication until I offered him a coupon. I’ve built friendships with the many patients who would stop by office, even when they didn’t need anything, just to say hello. I’ve been thanked more times than I can count, most memorably by the patient who gifted me a handmade crochet cross after I helped her apply for free prescription eyeglasses.
Of course, not all of my patient interactions were this positive. I’ve been hung up on, like by the patient who responded “well, I guess I’ll just piss myself then” after I explained that her bladder control medication was out of stock. I’ve felt uncomfortable, like with the patient who over-shared about his erectile dysfunction issues every time he came to see me. I’ve had patients fall asleep in my office while I was talking them through an application. I’ve cried with patients, like the woman told me over the phone that she can’t come pick up her medication because her husband and son had just died within weeks of each other, and she couldn’t bring herself to leave the house. I’ve felt my patients pain, panic, and frustrations with the healthcare system. Even though these moments were difficult, they had the biggest impact on me.
There is a beautiful mural on the wall outside of Health Center 5. It was painted by Cliff Eubanks Jr. and is titled “Eight Signs of Fortune”. One of the most prominent panels is of a doctor with a stethoscope hanging around her neck. The mural portrays healthcare as a “sign of fortune” and it’s true– we live in a country where if you have access to high-quality, affordable healthcare you’re one of the lucky ones. The patients I’ve met this year each have their own stories and specific barriers to care. But the neighborhood that surrounds Health Center 5 is comparable to countless other low-income communities across the country, where people are struggling to access the care they need and deserve. As I prepare to leave National Health Corps and take the next step in my public health career, I’m eager to continue to advocate for health equity. If there is one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s the power and importance of advocacy.