Channeling Espirit de Corps

This post was written by Emily Blau, a Patient Advocate at the Birmingham Free Clinic.

Last year, 88 National Health Corps members in four cities completed more than 150,000 hours and served over 100,000 adults and children. But before they achieved this mammoth goal, these same 88 members walked into Pre-Service Orientation (PSO for short) with a mix of emotions: anxious about meeting new people, unsure of what to expect from their 11 month service term, nervous about being in an unfamiliar setting, and ultimately excited to start serving at their host site. To settle those feelings, NHC promotes a sense of “espirit de corps,” which can best be described as a feeling of loyalty, camaraderie, fellowship, enthusiasm, and pride among members of the group. Espirit de corps not only encourages cooperation between each member, but can also prepare us to collaborate with our co-workers on-site during AmeriCorps and throughout our careers in public health.

During our eight days of PSO, we did a combination of informational sessions and team-building activities. The material we learned in presentations from our Program Director and various other employees at the Health Department were geared towards increasing our knowledge of public health, cultural competency, and the NHC program itself. But with team-building activities, we were able to learn more about each other, the ways we work as individuals, and how we can work together as a team. We sorted ourselves into personality types, communication styles, and miscellaneous groups during PSO, which allowed us to see who was similar to us, who was different, and how we could collaborate with everyone based on how they work best. Annie and Jen, our Program Director and Coordinator, worked hard to ensure that we had a safe space to grow and to talk about our experiences, and by the end of PSO, all 20 of us felt extremely comfortable with each other, which is amazing considering we had only known one another for a few days. Being at ease with each other and having this kind of support system within our corps will be essential, especially during more difficult points of our service term.

Being both culturally competent and cognizant of the different personalities we encounter will impact how effectively we serve at our sites as well. Awareness of the systemic and structural inequality that exists in our healthcare, our politics, and our economy is not just helpful but necessary when we commit ourselves to service and empathize with those we serve. The quality of care we provide to clients will be shaped by our ability to communicate with our co-workers and understand our clients; the nature of public health is collaborative and interdisciplinary, meaning it requires all kinds of people and abilities in order to do the most good. Knowing how to navigate problems and work collectively will strengthen our relationships with clients and coworkers alike, and hopefully will shape us into well-rounded and compassionate public health professionals.

I am excited to see how our group’s sense of espirit de corps develops and how that plays a role in the work we do on-site. My hope for our upcoming year of service is that we can rely on each other as a support system and a resource for public health knowledge, building on each other’s strengths and learning from one another so that we can serve our community as best we can. Our corps is a passionate and compassionate one, and from what I’ve seen so far, I am optimistic in our ability to be a small force for change.