An Embodiment of Empathy: How My Poverty Studies Internship Connected Me to Others

By Shelby Smith

Ms. Smith graduated from Elon University in 2015 with a major in Public Health Studies and a minor in Psychology. She works currently lives in Greensboro, NC and works as a Human Service Planner and Evaluator in maternal and child health at the Alamance County Health Department and plans to attend graduate school at Emory University for Family Nurse Midwifery next year.

"I often think of the bright and bustling halls of The Daily Planet and its ability to make patients truly feel at home in their care," writes Smith. "The model they have created is truly something to aspire to, and I work hard every day to bring the same grace and diligence to my work as my former colleagues who made their facility so exceptional."

“I often think of the bright and bustling halls of The Daily Planet and its ability to make patients truly feel at home in their care,” writes Smith. “The model they have created is truly something to aspire to, and I work hard every day to bring the same grace and diligence to my work as my former colleagues who made their facility so exceptional.”


Throughout my life, I have made a point to inform my philosophies of service and leadership with meaningful experiences, and to work in human services with a deliberate and nonjudgmental empathy for others around me. A passion for social justice is a tenant of my character to which so many other aspects of myself are tethered, and therefore I value action above all else to fuel positive shifts in the landscape of the world. My Shepherd Poverty Studies experience at The Daily Planet in Richmond, VA opened the door to experiences that flooded my life with stories of struggle, hope, and the power of one warm heart or a few words of kindness, and gave me the foundation for my current work at the Alamance County Health Department as a human service planner and evaluator in maternal and child health.

At The Daily Planet, patients who are currently homeless experience a safe place that is considered a patient-centered medical home.  When they enter the doors and are greeted by our front desk, they are given all the services that one would need including medical care, a dentist, mental health professionals, case managers, and an eye clinic—no questions asked.  I was always struck by the comments of many clients who said that the consistency and assurance of a climate of dignity, respect, and genuine caring by this organization was so important, and clearly an exception to the reality that they lived each day.

My internship involved the difficult and often bureaucratic task of patient education and assistance for patients with insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act and various prescription assistance programs. Although politics have evolved since my time in this role, the lessons that I learned through this work have continued to inform my ideology as a student of public health, and provided me with a vivid picture of how socioeconomic status and health are intimately tied to one another. In my current job at a local health department, uninsured and low income patients often rely on our services as a “safety net,” or something that will catch them from falling into dire straits in times of crisis or emergencies. While this is necessary and we also play a critical role in prevention of disease in communities, I often think of the bright and bustling halls of The Daily Planet and its ability to make patients truly feel at home in their care. The model they have created is truly something to aspire to, and I work hard every day to bring the same grace and diligence to my work as my former colleagues who made their facility so exceptional.

As my own professional goals grow and develop, and I go on to pursue a graduate nursing degree in midwifery, the lessons I have learned throughout my undergraduate years as a student and a volunteer in the local community continue to shape me into the person I am becoming. Most of all, I strive to cultivate and preserve a deep compassion for members of the communities around me who face times of marginalization or hardship, and I seek ways to leverage my own privilege and personal strengths to best serve them. My studies in public health and human services, as well as my experience as a Shepherd Poverty Intern, a Periclean Scholar at Elon University, and a volunteer coordinator for a local free clinic have culminated into my ultimate goal of providing medical care for underserved women and children.  I cannot stress enough the importance of experiential learning that takes us outside of a routine or personal “bubble.” There is no better way to learn something than to see, hear, feel, and touch it in a very real sense, and I have found that this is most definitely the case in understanding systemic poverty in the United States.

Reflecting on the Daily Planet experience, the relationships that I built with the patients and staff of such a unique and empowering clinic are things that I will treasure for the rest of my life and my career in healthcare. Poverty isn’t a noun; it’s the living, breathing faces of human beings who struggle every day but somehow also manage to be some of the warmest and most resilient individuals I have been privileged to meet. The Daily Planet remains in a special place in my heart, and I am constantly grateful to the Shepherd Poverty Consortium for the opportunity to have contributed as an intern there.

#AffordableCareAct #AlamanceCountyHealthDepartment #EmoryUniversity #TheDailyPlanet