From a young age, I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I did know that I wanted to work with children and within the medical sphere. My fascination with children is due to their inquisitive nature—always questioning all aspects of their world. In a way, I am envious of their ability to be unabashedly honest and thirsty for knowledge—the never-ending ‘Why?’s and ‘How?’s. They are a tabula rasa and they fill it effortlessly with all that they see, hear, and do. Their world is simple and straightforward. The innocence, the curiosity, and the free spirit that children possess create a palpable drive to spend one’s life surrounded by these human beings.
Aside from my inclination to help people, I want to be in medicine because of its ability to create. Its versatility is boundless: it both saves and kills. Its complexity and its discoveries are found where we least expect. Medicine pushes the bounds of possibility, advancing science and the human race further each and every day. For example, due to the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge, Project MinE—an international collaboration that prior to the challenge had been unable to complete its DNA sequencing of 15,000 ALS patients—used a portion of the total $115 million raised in six weeks to pinpoint a gene, NEKE1, as one of the most common contributors to the disease. That is, medical science is fascinating as it serves to be an ever-changing field—akin to children always challenging the norm and pushing for more answers used to make sense of this world.
Taking part in a SHECP internship allowed me to combine both of my passions, as my internship was one of the few with an opportunity to work at two separate organizations. The internships took place in the Lexington, Virginia area, a rural location and the home of Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University. Each week I split my time between the Buena Vista Public Health Department and the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center. Funded by the Comprehensive Services Act, Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center. (BRAAC) was founded in June 2009 by a mother whose son had been diagnosed with autism; she found that he needed a unique learning experience that unfortunately the public school system could not provide. BRAAC is a nonprofit/nonsectarian center that provides education and services to families and children affected by autism and other developmental disorders. As a Behavioral Technician, I taught two children, ages four and five, one-on-one. Each had designated educational needs and individualized lesson plans in order to meet those needs.
On days when I was not at BRAAC, I worked at the Buena Vista Public Health Department (BVPHD), a nonprofit health center that provides free care to Medicaid recipients. They specifically deal with WIC, STD testing and treatment, birth control distribution, and Baby Care. Baby Care is an in-home visiting program for pregnant women and mothers of newborns. While at the Public Health Department I worked as a Maternal and Child Health Assistant: I
worked in the WIC clinic, assisted my supervisor in Baby Care visits, assembled health education pamphlets, and created monthly health packets for new mothers and their newborns.
While taking part in my internship I saw how the lack of proper education, resources and public transportation in that rural area played an integral role in individuals’ inability to access the care and medical attention that they needed. For example, the nearby hospital did not perform deliveries; therefore, Buena Vista laboring women were expected to travel an hour for Labor and Delivery. My clients at BVPHD were both expectant and new mothers, so access to transportation was vital for them. Though the Rockbridge Area Transportation Service (RATS) and Maury Express were viewed as means of public transportation, they were clearly deficient. The Maury Express, a small shuttle with routes strictly in Lexington and Buena Vista, ran at odd hours of the day and charged its passengers a fee. RATS was not a viable option for my clients either, as patrons must book appointments two weeks in advance; hence, this mode of transportation could not be used in emergency situations.
Furthermore, the lack of transportation created compounding obstacles. After seeing some clients, we referred them for additional services to Project Horizon—a shelter for victims of sexual or psychological violence in dating or domestic relationships in Lexington—Social Services, or the Rockbridge Area Health Center. Yet clients found it difficult to find transportation in order to access the additional help that they desperately needed.
In addition to transportation, education played a vital role in our clients’ lives. For example, those who had not received the Best Parenting Practices courses, were unaware of the proper ways to engage with and treat their children after birth or to access the necessary medical tests, checkups, screenings and scans as expectant mothers. Additionally, final trimester clients admitted to continuing engagement in unhealthy habits and excused these harmful practices stating that their mothers and grandmothers maintained these same habits when they were pregnant. As evident, our push for education for new mothers was hindered by the clients’ reluctance to change.
However, after every personal struggle witnessed during the internship, I am more certain than ever that education is the first step to eradicating poverty. Awareness and education—not just for impoverished mothers but for all of us—are paramount in efforts to challenge and end poverty. We must understand, even if we are not living in poverty, poverty is more than the absence of money; it is pervasive, prevalent, and hard to overcome without education. Raising awareness about the struggles that impoverished persons’ face is the crux to combating this problem that sometimes seems so simple at a distance.
Though the unaffected population is aware that this struggle affects millions, their lack of education on the subject and removal from the situation make it difficult to grasp poverty’s multidimensional aspects—warping our perception of the depth of poverty. It is more than being homeless or lacking funds; it integrates itself into all facets of one’s life affecting one’s, health, education, transportation and family. Those of us lucky enough to live above the poverty line must shed our comfort zones and preconceived notions and seek out the stories of those living in poverty. Only then will be understand the problem sufficiently enough to do something about it.
Furthermore, we must create a platform for those affected by poverty to share their stories thus overcoming its stigmatization. This is an opportunity to free those who live in poverty and empower them to openly share their stories, making them more real to us. Sharing stories change the attitudes and perspectives of both the poor and those who are not poor. Storytelling has the ability to change mindsets and create movements. By sharing my story of my own poverty and my experience as a SHECP intern I am empowered to educate others. I would be remiss if I did not admit that this sharing takes courage; nothing is more unnerving than baring our truth, but good also comes from those moments.
My SHECP internship granted me the opportunity to witness what selfless means. Each day I worked as a member of a team dedicated solely to creating better, safer, healthier, and happier lives for individuals. Whether it was at BRAAC, witnessing fellow behavioral technicians tailoring education to a specific child’s needs in order to accomplish achievements to which other children pay no heed, or the Public Health department educating women, who otherwise would suffer from lack of knowledge, my colleagues and I put people first.
The experiences that I had placed me squarely on my current career trajectory. I felt the need to become immersed in a field that allowed me to be both an advocate and an ally. As a graduate student receiving my Master’s in Medical Ethics and Law, I was not only searching for a medical field that aids marginalized populations but desired to become further educated in the various laws that help and hinder these populations. My Master’s program does that, as it allows me to learn about pressing issues ranging from the level of medical autonomy of the diagnosed mentally ill to how healthcare, justice and society influence one another. All that I witnessed and learned as an intern has been both useful and transformative, instilling in me the need to be a medical professional treating marginalized communities.
Ms. Collins interned at the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center, as well as the Buena Vista Pubic Health Department. Recent Bucknell University class of 2016 graduate, Dejda was Pre-Med and majored in Sociology with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She is now receiving her Master’s Degree in Medical Ethics and Law, from Keele University located in England and has her sights set on Medical School in the near future.