Squirrel Hill Health Center Revisited: Perspective from a Frontline Healthcare Worker

Almost a year ago I was trying (rather frantically) to figure out what I wanted to do with my gap between my undergraduate career and medical school. After reading the National Health Corps (NHC) mission and the service position descriptions, I knew I wanted to serve with NHC. I was very excited at the idea of stepping out of my comfort zone to learn about and serve a community that I was unfamiliar with. However, I was not entirely sure how my role at the Squirrel Hill Health Center (SHHC) would impact patients. SHHC is a federally qualified health center. We serve to increase access to healthcare for a diverse patient population, who would not normally receive care without the services of SHHC. As a patient navigator, I contact and schedule patients who are overdue for preventative exams and health screenings, and I meet with patients who are new to SHHC to discuss the services we offer. Providing these healthcare services successfully has required guidance from many of the clinicians at SHHC. Lauren Bloom, primary care physician assistant (PA-C), is one of those providers, and she has been helpful in making my work at SHHC effective.

Lauren has been working at SHHC for about a year. As a graduate student, she was very interested in working in primary care, specifically at a place like SHHC. During school, she completed one of her clinical rotations at SHHC and was hired on soon after graduating. Being that Lauren has worked with AmeriCorps members in the past and present, she has grown to appreciate the value that their service provides for the patients and the member. After collaborating with Lauren and learning that she has a background in service, I wanted to sit down with her and ask her a few questions about her journey, what my role adds to SHHC, and some challenges that all of us at SHHC face.       

Tell us about your journey and previous experiences that led you to pursue your current career in healthcare.

Lauren: In high school, I took an anatomy class and the top five students got to see an open-heart surgery. In college, I was pretty sure I wanted to study science. Along the way I had some doubts, and at one point I thought I might pursue music. During my senior year at Arizona State University, a Teach for America representative came in and talked to our class, and that sparked an interest in teaching. However, after about a year of teaching, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do and decided to see what healthcare avenues I could pursue. I became an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) on the side and fell in love with it. I knew I didn’t want to be an EMT forever. I realized quickly that for me it wasn’t a sustainable career. I had some friends that were PA’s and after talking with them I ultimately decided to pursue PA school.

My AmeriCorps position is relatively new at SHHC. What benefit does my role have for patients at SHHC that may not exist at other community health centers?

Lauren: I think our health center is very unique because most of our patients are experiencing healthcare for the first time in their lives. The new patient orientations are very important because something as simple as picking up a prescription is a totally foreign concept to most of our patients. As clinicians, we don’t have the time to necessarily explain all of those things, so it is really helpful to have these new patient orientations. The patient tracking is important as well. I’ll have an appointment with someone and look back and see that they haven't been seen since 2014, and the only reason they have this appointment is because you called them. Preventative healthcare is super important, and we can't keep up with every patient we’ve ever seen, so contacting them is significant.

How do you think my service at SHHC will be beneficial as I pursue a career in medicine?

Lauren: Well I think you are really good at asking questions. You sit down at lunch and talk to clinicians about healthcare and the medical field. You are learning a lot about the field and what you want to pursue just by talking to the people here. Also, sitting down and talking with patients is something that a lot of people pursuing medical school don’t have the opportunity to do before they start school. You’re really getting a head start in that sense!

Being that we have a very culturally diverse patient population, there are many communication barriers that exist. Do you have any advice for ways to overcome these barriers?

Lauren: I would say the most important thing is to realize that you have unconscious biases. Embrace it and work on it every day. There are days that you are going to be more easily frustrated, but it’s important to reset. Communication, in its simplest sense, is something you get better at with practice as you use the interpretation service more, but a lot of frustrations arise because we tend to make unfair assumptions about people's intentions. It’s inevitable, it’s just important to be willing to recognize and combat it.

After my interview with Lauren, I reflected on my AmeriCorps experience thus far. At times service can be challenging, and sometimes it can be difficult to envision the broader implications of day-to-day work. Lauren, along with many other clinicians at SHHC, have made it clear that my role is an important component of the work SHHC does. Just today, I received a call from a patient that I reached out to a while ago. I made an appointment for her and her husband — this is the first time in a few years that they’ve received care. Successes like this one are reminders that the service I am providing is reaching people and making a difference.


To learn more about SHHC and their mission, visit their website at https://squirrelhillhealthcenter.org/.

This post was written by NPHC member Caleb Bailie.

Caleb serves at the Squirrel Hill Health Center as a Patient Navigator.