I love theory. My college classes at Indiana University were full of economic models and mathematical formulas that were supposed to represent the world. Everything seems so clear in a textbook. A bright-eyed undergrad, I was thrilled to spend my days studying the possibilities of what could be.
The real world isn’t so predictable. Friction, both in the physical and the organizational sense, is ubiquitous. In theory, a patient taking a certain diabetic pill should see their blood glucose levels drop over time. But what if this patient is handicapped and can’t find someone to take them to the pharmacy? What if the pharmacist can’t contact the patient because the patient just lost their job and was unable to pay the phone bill? What if a refill is two weeks late because answering Question #3 on the refill application wasn’t really optional? These wrinkles are all very real, and none of them can be explicitly answered by a textbook.
With medical school on the horizon, this service term has been exactly the kind of experience I was looking for. My days aren’t spent hiding behind the walls of a textbook or huddling in the corner of a library. I’m out here serving in the real world five days a week, and always looking for ways to contribute on the weekend. The needles I see on the ground when I go for a walk weren't used for a classroom science experiment. We’re not learning how to look for signs of an opioid overdose and administer naloxone for academic reasons. We’re learning these skills because we could very well be using these skills in the places we serve. I’ve read articles on the dangers of the opioid epidemic, but before this service term I had never heard the first-hand accounts of brothers, sisters, and other loved ones who didn’t make it.
I don’t want to come off as overly-dramatic about the whole situation, but these are experiences that I will truly continue to reflect on as I continue my career. Even the day-to-day events, though not as remarkable, teach valuable skills like responsibility and professionalism (no, you can’t wear sweatpants to work). As part of a health center team, I get to communicate with social workers, nurses, physicians, and other staff so patients can get the care they need. As an Americorps member, I’m on a team of highly-motivated young people who want to make a tangible difference in Philadelphia. This dual-relationship offers a unique opportunity to understand teamwork in two specialized settings. These experiences, on this scale, can’t be replaced by a classroom.
I’m always surprised at how quickly time passes. The more I try to appreciate it, the less of it I seem to have. This service term has flown by-- I’ve been appreciating my time. My position as a Prescription Assistance and National Health Corps Member offers so many opportunities to learn and grow both as a person and as a professional. It has set the stage for my career in the medical field. Most importantly, it has provided me with real-world experiences and encounters that I could never hope to find within the pages of a textbook.