They say that experience is the greatest teacher. My experience as a National Health Corps Florida AmeriCorps member has proven to be just that. In just one year, I learned more than I could have expected, and without even realizing, somewhere along the way my perspectives and goals shifted. This year has given me the opportunity to serve alongside and learn from so many service-oriented individuals. As I look back on my year of service, whether it be through host site service or outside service I have had the opportunity to meet many individuals across all walks of life. I have not only gained a greater understanding of the community I had the opportunity to serve, but also of the kind of professional, I strive to be.
As a little kid, I would walk around all day with my little doctor kit and my plastic stethoscope around my neck and “heal” everyone’s “boo-boos,” whether they were real or not. There was never really the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The question instead was what kind of physician I wanted to be. I used to view that question solely as what specialty I would be interested in. But now, when asked what kind of physician I want to be, my answer is different. While being a physician is still my professional goal, serving with the National Health Corps gave me the opportunity to learn and to practice my public health skills. I have seen individuals experience health determinants that I previously only learned of in the classroom. Through first-hand experience, it has shown me the importance of what it means to be an “upstreamist.” To be one who looks for and addresses the source. No matter what field I go into, I strive to be one who understands health begins long before an individual shows up at the doctor’s office.
Through my service as a Care Coordinator at Clay Behavioral Health Center as part of the Substance Use Disorder team, it is common for individuals to come in and have no other options, unsure of where to turn to next. It is also common to have clients who are only there because they are required to be, whether that be through the courts or terms of probation. Some gladly accepted services, while others wanted nothing to do with me. As a new member, this was hard to accept. We come into this program wanting to serve. Wanting to provide direct service to all that we can. But, the best lesson that I learned is that sometimes the best way to serve is to simply listen. I cannot make anyone accept the services, but I can listen and learn from them. And just maybe, somewhere along the way, be able to plant the seeds of change in them.
The results of service can often be immediately recognized, but not always. Sometimes we don’t even get to see the seeds that we planted eventually grow. One thing is true regardless - the greatest measure of success to me was not the number of clients served, but the value of the service that was given. As I begin my next chapter, and new members begin their service term, I look back and realize the lessons I learned from all those I have had the opportunity to serve alongside will forever shape me, not only as a professional but as an individual.
To the new members, I encourage you to take every opportunity to learn, you never know where this year will lead you. Get involved in the community. Don’t be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Get to know the individuals you serve. Be relentless. And most importantly, have fun.