Nine months ago, as a recent college graduate, I arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport to go spend a year serving with the National Health Corps as a Care Navigator at a community health center in Philadelphia. As I checked my bags, I thought to myself ‘Here goes nothing.’ Though I had moved to a new city alone before, I still experienced the anticipated anxiety of going out into the unknown, not knowing what would come of the next year.
Luckily, my nerves were put to rest shortly after I settled into my new apartment and began exploring the city. What I found to like best about Philadelphia was its rich history, and its abundance of cultural diversity. My host site, Maria de los Santos Health Center, is located in a primarily Spanish speaking neighborhood. Puerto Rican flags hang from windows, metal palm trees decorate the street corners, murals cover the sides of many buildings, and the sounds of reggae and urban latino pop blare from homes and stores alike: something you don’t see too often back home in Minnesota.
Amidst experiencing the excitement of a new city, my eyes have been opened to the many cyclic socioeconomic factors that contribute to health outcomes of our community. Limited grocery stores and parks, somewhat unreliable public transportation, and unkempt streets are just a few of the root causes that lead to greater health problems and the lower life expectancy in low-income neighborhoods. Prior to moving to Philadelphia I was aware of these issues, but I didn’t realize to what extent they affect patients’ health. I see now that there is a great necessity for healthcare professionals to better the health outcomes of their community by being active participants in public policy advocacy, fighting for change in their communities.
Although I have learned so much by serving at my health center, from navigating electronic health records, educating patients in Spanish, grant management skills etc, what has most profoundly changed my perception of health and its determinants has been my experiences outside the health center. Walking around these neighborhoods and making conversation with locals while on public transport has allowed me to somewhat get a glimpse of everyday life in these communities. I am very grateful for my time here and hope to never stop venturing outside of my comfort zone to gain the knowledge that it takes to be a leader in the health field, working towards bettering the health outcomes of all communities alike.