Greetings from Hanover, NH. “A small college town” doesn’t do the town justice. We’re about 3 hours from Boston, 3 hours from Portland, and 2 hours from the nearest Trader Joe’s and Target. Talk about rural. In fact, our school’s motto literally means “a shout out of the desert.” It doesn’t give experience for the majority of us who intend on practicing in a city after graduation.
That’s why I joined our Urban Health Scholars program, which creates a space for students from all backgrounds to discuss how health is uniquely practiced within an urban context. Every 10 weeks, we leave our quaint college town for a city–Boston, New York, New Orleans–to experience how healthcare is practiced in an urban context. Between trips, we host movie nights, panel discussions, and journal clubs to remind us about the intersection between health and healthcare within an city.
Last weekend, we sojourned to Boston. Putting down the books and picking up our stethoscopes, we spent 3 days exploring the city’s diverse healthcare landscape. And boy was it diverse. Within 72 hours, we visited FQHCs (federally qualified health centers), a non-profit promoting safe sex practices, a level 1 trauma center, a non-profit commitment to racial justice in healthcare, a school turned health clinic, community health clinics, and a community health fair. Here are a few of the highlights:
- We spent most of our time in South Boston (Jamaica Plains, Mattapan) where access to healthcare was sparse. Even in what seems to be the most populated city for healthcare, many clinics were like an oasis in the desert. Patients often spend hours traveling to clinics. Subsequently, they only show up in severe cases.
- It’s fascinating how even with the new healthcare law (and MA’s history with free care), that many patients (particularly immigrant families) fear going to healthcare facilities. Providers shared stories of how getting patients to the clinic was difficult, let alone scheduling follow-up appointments. Consistency in healthcare is key, especially when we’re dealing with chronic conditions which plague many of these communities. The nutritionist working at the school was most adamant. She mentioned how difficult it was to incorporate ancillary support within healthcare, but they are coming up with great solutions!
- One FQHC’s commitment to racial justice transformed how it trained its healthcare workers. Rather than simply promote diversity, the mission of the clinic is to pursue racial justice. That means training healthcare providers on systemic oppression and cultural competency. This clinic even challenged many of us who come from diverse backgrounds and are committed to working in under resourced communities.
- What I really enjoyed was the Mattapan Community Health Revival Fair where community members networked with the healthcare communities in South Boston. It was incredible to see how the community created a space to bring together its members to talk about their health. Many patients received valuable services for free and began to establish care that they would have not otherwise had. Our group provided pamphlets with questions for patients to take to their physicians. Many of our patients don’t come prepared to understand their conditions so coming with a set of questions can help them navigate what the process of taking care of a chronic disease is like. We also played a Myth Busters game testing community members’ knowledge about chronic health conditions. It was so powerful to see so many community members get excited about the game. We even convinced a few kids to want to go to medical school because of it!
It’s events like these that remind me about why I chose medicine in the first place. While we isolate ourselves in the libraries of rural New Hampshire, it’s important for me to stay connected to the communities I plan to work for after graduation. They keep me grounded. They keep me sane.