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Once an Advocate, Always an Advocate

Just a few stories from your peers about how they advocate for a more just society today.

Arielle Egan

The Dimock Center, Boston (January 2012 – May 2013)

How are you an advocate today? For the last five years I have been working as a paralegal at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. As part ...

How are you an advocate today?

For the last five years I have been working as a paralegal at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. As part of my role I was assigned to the Project Dawn Court (PDC). The PDC is a diversionary program that is unique in its eligibility requirements. The program seeks out women with prostitution charges, who are chronic recidivists, with decades of sexual trauma, drug abuse, and often with serious mental health diagnoses. The women I worked with felt like some of most abused people in the criminal justice system, their cases were minor, but they had so many convictions that they had become tethered to their criminal records and left to sink. Most people saw these women as lost causes, but Mary DeFusco, one of the founders of the PDC, saw clients who had a need that was not getting met. She set up the PDC so that these women would receive the support that they needed, through case management, sexual trauma therapy, and a variety of other services.

As Mary’s paralegal I worked tirelessly to advocate for my clients. I would call treatment programs and ask that they keep my client for another day, so they wouldn’t be discharged without a place to go, I would call housing programs, therapists, and providers to make sure my clients were being properly taken care of.

While I was working full time, I attended Temple University Beasley School of Law as an Evening Student. After I graduated I was lucky enough to be offered a position in the Fall Class of Attorneys at the Defender Association.

 

How did your role as an Advocate inform your path to today?

I worked at the Dimock Center as a Health Leads Advocate. The Dimock Center is unique in both its small size and in the programming that it offers to its patients. It was through Health Leads and the Dimock Center that I was introduce to a variety of public interest lawyers that were often working with patients to improve their living conditions. When I first applied to be an advocate with Health Leads, I was looking for a way to engage with community health clinics. I had intended to go to Medical School, and later become a Primary Care Provider. Health Leads gave me a more holistic understanding of what affects a person’s health. When I met the lawyers in the clinic, something clicked for me. I realized that what I loved, was being an advocate, and I began to change my path.

 

What surprised you about that path?

How obvious it was. I was the freshman in college who had a ten-year plan, written out, and it did not include law school. I thought I was going to take a very linear path to achieve my goals, but that goal was just to make a positive impact. What I found out is that there are many ways to create change in your community, and often the most linear path is the one that will teach you the least about yourself and the world.

What inspires you most about your work?

How resilient people are.

Colleen Packard

Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, D.C. (September 2014 – May 2016)

How are you an advocate today? I’m currently in graduate school for my MPH at GWU studying Community-Oriented Primary Care. A lot of my projects in ...

How are you an advocate today?

I’m currently in graduate school for my MPH at GWU studying Community-Oriented Primary Care. A lot of my projects in school focus around the social determinants of health, and a current QI project for my community health management course is looking at improving social determinants screenings in the outpatient setting.

Additionally, my jobs provide me with the ability to advocate and build capacity within my communities. I volunteer as an EMT in PG County, MD, and as part of that path I have started to help with community outreach and training residents on CPR, AED, and bleeding control. My job is through GWU, where I am the Coordinator of a program (Civic House) for freshmen interested in connecting with the DC community through service and civic engagement.

How did your role as an Advocate inform your path to today?

Before I started at Health Leads, I was a chemistry major focused solely on starting my career in medicine. But because of my time at CNMC as an advocate, I saw firsthand the difference that social determinants of health can make, and the great need for health workers to be aware of these factors while providing care. I am now interested in going to nursing school and working in primary care, but I would not have taken the time to pursue my MPH in Community Health without my time at Health Leads.

What surprised you about that path?

I never expected to go to graduate school, or take such an interest in public health. But because of the families I had the opportunity to interact with through HL, I decided that I would be a much better provider if I had the knowledge and tools to tackle public health issues on a larger scale. I believe this has already shown in my work as an EMS provider, where I now have the knowledge to recognize the importance of building capacity of the community to learn CPR, and the skills to actually do something about it.

What inspires you most about your work?

Every time my students in Civic House say or write something insightful I am rejuvenated because I can see the vast potential that each one of them has to be change-makers in their community, no matter what field they are going into.

Maria D’Amico

Harlem Hospital Pediatrics Department, New York (September 2012 – May 2015)

How are you an advocate today? I’m a second year medical student at Boston University. Our hospital, Boston Medical Center, is the largest safety-net hospital in ...

How are you an advocate today?

I’m a second year medical student at Boston University. Our hospital, Boston Medical Center, is the largest safety-net hospital in New England and provides for many underserved and diverse patients. I’m currently one of the student leaders of a service learning group called CALM (Cuddling Assists in Lowering Maternal and Infant Stress). Volunteers cuddle newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs after in-utero exposure. Cuddling and calming the infants leads for less need for opioid medications to soothe their withdrawal symptoms. Many of their mothers are in intensive recovery programs at Boston Medical, and I am an advocate by working to expand medical student knowledge about substance use disorder, and addiction in pregnancy, as well as improve outcomes for these infants by providing more consolation for the infant.

How did your role as an Advocate inform your path to today?

Learning about the social determinants of health through Health Leads helped clarify my goals in what I was looking for in a medical school. I knew I wanted to be in an urban environment with a patient population that had complex medical and social needs, as well as the faculty who were passionate about treating them. This lead me to choose Boston University School of Medicine, which is affiliated with Boston Medical Center. My skills I gained at Health Leads helped give me the skills to interact with and help these patients before I even began learning the medical school curriculum.

What surprised you about that path?

I was surprised to learn how little time there is in medical school to learn the social determinants of health. Sure, in a text book it makes sense that food security and having a ride are important things for patients, but during a rushed 15-minute patient interview about uncontrolled hypertension or other complex medical issues, remembering to ask about these things is not always at the forefront. I was surprised to see that even some physicians don’t feel comfortable remembering to ask these things, and sometimes as a student, reminding the patient about the free food pantry at our hospital, or the discount community gym next door, helps the patient as much as the medical advice from their physician.

What inspires you most about your work?

As one of the leaders of CALM, I am inspired by the changes I am helping to achieve among the medical students as well as infants. We routinely do surveys to our medical student volunteers to assess their knowledge about substance use disorders and sympathy towards mothers in recovery. Although I’m not sure what field I’ll go in to and not everyone will go on to treat infants with NAS, substance use disorders and the opioid epidemic are so far reaching that it will inevitably affect all of us in our medical practice. I believe to address this problem we need to get all physicians on board, and cuddling infants is one enjoyable part we can all play in helping to address this issue.