As a new college graduate with aspirations for medical school, I knew I wanted to spend my gap year doing something health related. When I saw the open position at the YMCA through the NHC-FL, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to build upon some of the skills that I had acquired in college and as a chance to bolster my knowledge of nutrition and fitness. My intuition proved to be correct within first few weeks of the service term. The position turned out to be a fertile practice ground for all of those skills that I wished to cultivate. Needless to say, I was content; my choice seemed to be a wise one. I was getting exactly what I asked for, and I was also having a great time helping the kids to learn some of the knowledge and skills they will need to form long-lasting healthy habits .
And yet, doubt still found ways to creep into my mind. While I was enjoying teaching nutrition classes and creating fitness activities for my kids, the thought persisted that I was straying too far away from my aspirations of practicing medicine. I felt concerned that my experiences, while valuable, were just a bit too far removed from the healthcare system. In moments to myself, I would think about some of the other NHC-FL positions at hospitals, mental health centers, and clinics or about the various clinical experiences my pre-med friends from college were doing and feel apprehension. Where are my patients? I thought. Where’s my stethoscope? Where is my meeting with physicians advising me on how to do my job? For the first month of my service term, those questions did not go away. I battled my love of doing activities in the classroom and researching nutrition topics with the thought that maybe I had chosen the wrong way to spend an entire year of my life.
Surprisingly, the answers to my question came during my first medical school interview. I was sitting across from my first interviewer hoping to not nervously sweat through my favorite dress shirt when she asked me to describe what I was doing in my gap year. As I launched into my description, I felt something click inside of me. Feelings that had gone unspoken suddenly became coherent thoughts under the pressure of the interview.
I told my interviewer that my position required me to help people learn how to navigate the world in a healthy way. Everyday, I take the time to synthesize my acquired nutrition and fitness knowledge into a form digestible to children. I find ways to build the trust and confidence of each student so that they feel comfortable enough to ask me anything. I answer questions from students and use their curiosity to steer them towards new understanding. I make minute-by-minute course corrections during classes and activities to ensure that information is being delivered in the best way possible. In meetings with YMCA team members, I discuss non-profit operations and how they use their resources to provide services to underserved families. I talk with my host site mentor about how health interventions have to be considerate of your client’s environment, including factors like whether it’s safe enough to play outside, how stress affects a person’s everyday temperament, and how a convincing presentation can be the key to adherence.
I left that interview with a new kind of peace (aside from being relieved that I made it through the day without barfing). Starting the road to becoming a physician is much more than just acquiring clinically-relevant knowledge just as treating a patient is about more than just their biology. There are a constellation of other skills and understanding that must be mixed together to create a competent healthcare worker, and my position at the YMCA has been a great place to practice those skills.
Nowadays, I don’t worry about whether I made the right choice; I know that I have. The things I’ve learned and the joy I get from going to Tiger Academy and the after school programs to spread the knowledge of healthy living are testament to that. Instead, I try everyday to be the best Health Educator that I can be because, when I finally do get to put on a stethoscope, I want to be worthy and ready for the honor.
This blog post was written by NHC Florida member, Eric Bethea.
Eric serves at the YMCA as a Health Educator.