Post 3: Leaving Project Healthcare

One shift in the emergency room, a woman came in wailing. She was clutching her stomach in excruciating pain and discomfort. I ended up by her side, walking her through breathing exercises while holding her hand and shoulder.

Another shift, a patient was very frustrated that nobody spoke Russian in the hospital. She was agitated, screaming in her language to everyone who walked nearby. I ended up by her side too, having a lively emotional conversation using hand motions and drawings.

A third time, I saw a man screaming in anguish over the sight of his amputated finger being stitched up. I ended up by his side as well, asking about his past as a professional world traveling bicyclist. He later squeezed my hand and thanked me for understanding what he needed.

I will never forget these experiences that strengthened my ability to connect with the patients who need it most. I have grown immensely into a strong caregiver able to listen with compassion and sensitivity. Building these skills was the most important goal for me this summer as I believe empathy is as critical a part of medicine as a diagnosis.  Every day in the hospital, I saw firsthand that empathy has strong positive effects on a patient’s overall care.

In the modern Hippocratic oath, physicians swear to “remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug”. I am privileged to have had five hours a day with the purpose of providing this warmth, sympathy, and understanding. In the hospital, volunteers and first year providers have a very obvious drive to advocate for and understand patients. I look up to the physicians who maintain this passion after years of practice, and I strive to be like them in my future.

I encourage future Project Healthcare volunteers to notice who holds on to this passion and learn from them. Use this time to build your own lifelong interpersonal and bedside manner skills. Take the time to understand this diverse populations’ backgrounds and values and use this knowledge to advocate. I encourage you, and everyone interested in healthcare, to step out of your comfort zone and speak up for those who need it most.

As I leave this internship, I am taking with me a stronger understanding of how I can best help in my future. Project Healthcare has solidified my passion to advocate for equitable access to healthcare. With this in mind, although I have not narrowed down a specific career path, I have decided to work with medically underserved populations in my future. I found that I can always work on strengthening my understanding of other backgrounds and values and that doing so is key to being able to make a difference. In this way, I will continue to strive to implement change in underrepresented communities in whichever profession I pursue. Later this week, I will return my Bellevue ID, endlessly grateful for the people I have met and the lessons I have learned.

Post 2: Lessons from the Project Healthcare Health Fair

Music played loudly from the health fair tables in front of me. It competed with the chatter of volunteers discussing their noncontroversial topics of fitness, diabetes, and smoking. The mixture of staff, patients, and community members laughed enthusiastically as they played interactive games to learn about each topic. I stood eagerly in front of my poster, waiting for the crowd to approach me. Slowly, they neared my station, only getting close enough to shoot me a glare before quickly walking to another table. It hurt that my welcoming smile wasn’t enough to draw people in. I looked around and compared my project to those around me. My game was just as interactive, my poster was just as colorful, and my presentation was just as informative. I saw one clear difference: my poster displayed one of the most taboo words in American culture: sex. I realized that though I had become comfortable talking about sex in the past weeks researching, other people were not as receptive. 

My health fair group: (from left) Favour, Seb, and me

Sex is so stigmatized in the United States that people would rather lie to their children about how babies are made than talk to them about sex. This environment creates a community where people feel uncomfortable asking important questions about a topic that is natural and healthy. So, although I had prepared for weeks to promote informed safe sex, I was met with a community who rejected the topic. To accommodate these feelings, my group changed our approach by advertising our game as a test to people’s knowledge rather than putting the emphasis on sex. Now, these adults became interested in proving how much they know. Our activity, called “the pull-out game” prompted participants to pull out a card with true or false questions to test their knowledge on sexual health. 

My poster with “the pull-out game”

Questions that were commonly answered incorrectly included “wearing two condoms is safer than one”, “you can always tell if someone has an STI by looking at them”, and “you can’t get an STI from oral sex”. Through conversing with the public, we broke down significant misconceptions about sexual health and created an environment where people felt comfortable talking informatively about the topic. We handed out many pamphlets in English Spanish and Chinese on different kinds of sexually transmitted infections and forms of birth control, and answered extra questions afterwards. When handing out pamphlets, we persisted in being cognizant of people’s backgrounds. We prioritized handing out a flyer with sexual health clinic locations, making sure to advertise that these clinics provide low to no cost services and that no appointment is necessary, regardless of immigration status, health insurance, or ability to pay. 

My experiences in the health fair reinforced for me that issues in the emergency department are a reflection of society. In my day to day experiences in the emergency room, sex is not the only taboo subject addressed. Substance use and homelessness are prevalent in the hospital and are also taboo subjects in “normal” society. However, in an emergency situation, talking to a person about their medical history and housing situation, however controversial, is paramount in effectively treating that person. 

Many situations like these prove that in healthcare, it is essential to genuinely understand and be sensitive towards a patient’s background, education, and values. I am learning that this rounded outlook is necessary in ensuring patients feel treated and heard. In my role as a volunteer, I am developing skills to more effectively communicate and sympathize, while being cognizant of people’s disparities. I am uniquely positioned this summer to listen to patients and community members and learn important lessons from them that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Post 1: Starting Project Healthcare

As an undergraduate struggling to decide on a path in healthcare, I wondered if I would ever get the exposure I needed to make an informed career decision. I opportunely found Bellevue Project Healthcare, a program that gives me the unique chance to gain authentic healthcare experiences at Bellevue Hospital in NYC.

Through this program, I advocate for patients by talking with them, interpreting, making calls on their behalf, and monitoring their lengths of stays. Additionally, I have responsibilities like assisting with EKGs, making up stretchers, stocking supplies, and transporting patients. Lastly, I will soon have the chance to engage with NYC communities by organizing a community health fair, and presenting a project to NYU/Bellevue faculty.

I am assigned to random shifts at the hospital that mimic the true intensity of healthcare:

My PHC Schedule

In this schedule, I have shifts in different departments within the hospital: adult emergency, social work, urgent care departments and more. Along with these clinical rotations, we also have weekly educational meetings where we learn about and discuss prevalent social and medical issues in the community.

Post-shift relaxing view near the hospital

Before starting the program, I was drawn to Bellevue’s powerful mission to “provide the highest quality of care to New York’s neediest populations and to deliver health care to every patient with dignity, cultural sensitivity and compassion, regardless of ability to pay” (https://med.nyu.edu/idevelop/resources/Mandates2012.pdf). Having worked for only two weeks, I have already come to understand the strong impact this statement has on New York communities. More than 80 percent of the patients in this hospital come from the city’s medically underserved populations, especially homeless people and prisoners. I was inspired by the fact that the health and safety of these populations always come first regardless of any other factors like being uninsured or undocumented. What truly drew me in to Bellevue Project Healthcare was that I am not only shadowing the various positions I may be interested in, but I am also gaining invaluable insight on Bellevue’s diverse and unique patient population through talking to and advocating for them.

In the few shifts I have already had, I see that even as volunteers, Project Healthcare participants have an impact. Through conversations, I have made patients much more comfortable, discovered new symptoms patients did not think were important to share with physicians, and eased tensions or misunderstandings. I learned that just acknowledgement of an issue goes a long way when it comes to advocating for patients, and that many of them just want someone to listen and validate their concerns. I feel privileged to be able to make even the slightest difference in these patients’ hospital visits by advocating for them in any way I can.

Project Healthcare participants in my orientation group

My goals in continuing this program are to begin building my healthcare career, and to develop valuable lifelong interpersonal and bedside manner skills. I hope to become well-versed in my understanding of policy as well as diversity in healthcare. Using this knowledge, I will identify areas of academic focus and tailor my curriculum to facilitate growth in my career. I believe that gaining this knowledge will reaffirm my passion for my minor of Hispanic Studies,  as I will further understand the influence of cultural barriers in health. I will further deepen my understanding of the importance of making sure patients feel understood and respected. Developing these skills is the most important goal for me this summer because I strongly believe that they are crucial in healthcare, and that empathy is a critical part of healthcare as a diagnosis.