Personal Connection With Underserved Patients
by Abigail Gizinski
Like so many others, I started medical school with the broad goal of “helping people”. I love working with and learning about people from all walks of life, and decided to pursue a career in medicine so I could have a tangible skill set that would make me a useful member of any community I found myself in. I thrive on the challenge to understand things deeply and fully believe that a good physician needs to be a champion of lifelong learning, always seeking new things to learn and new ways to serve their patients. Throughout medical school, I have sought an avenue for practicing medicine which brings all of these things together, and in the past three years have discovered that family medicine is a perfect place to help me achieve this goal. As the primary liaison between a patient and the medical community, I will need to know each patient personally so that I am better equipped to advocate for them. I want to provide a space for each of my patients to feel known and cared for because I believe this is the environment where people get the best possible care.
In the past few years, I have struggled with conflicting ideas about what my medical practice would look like someday. I have always been interested in primary care, but would I like the fast-paced and high-acuity setting of a hospital? Perhaps I could continue my interest in research by finding a spot in an academic center? Could I be happy taking care of kids all day, or would I miss the complexity of noncompliant older adults with ten different comorbid conditions? My time on clerkships has shown me that there are bits of everything that I like too much to give up for the rest of my career. The more I learn about full-scope family practice, the more I realize that this would give me the perfect blend of everything I love about medicine – a chance to be thoroughly involved in the health of my patients, and to walk with them and advocate for them in all stages of life.
In my short time on this earth thus far, I have learned that “underserved” patients can present in a thousand different ways. While on medical service trips to Malawi and Haiti, “the underserved” were the people who could not access medical care for themselves or their families, either because of geographic distance or prohibitive expense. We were able to meet that need by bringing health care directly to them, using donor-funded supplies and volunteer manpower to make sure they got the medical treatment they needed in a place that was convenient for them. During the summer before medical school, when I was a counselor at a service-oriented camp for high school students, “the underserved” became teenagers trying to reconcile who they were with who they wanted to become. My coworkers and I worked tirelessly to reach out to them and demonstrate that they could be known and still loved, and that they had infinite worth and potential that had yet to be realized. In my Early Clinical Experience, I was placed at an urban community clinic where “the underserved” included refugees and people struggling with substance use who found themselves living on the streets of Grand Rapids, sometimes wearing only flip-flops and raincoats to shelter them from a Michigan snowstorm. In my role as a temporary medical assistant, I was able to help the staff take extra time with patients to make sure their social needs were also addressed, including a staff-run food and clothing pantry in the attic for any patient who had nowhere else to turn.
As part of my Rural Community Health certificate program through CHM, I have been able to immerse myself more deeply in rural communities where access to health care is not an issue on paper but becomes a huge problem in practice. This is the “underserved” population that I want to serve after medical school. I want to have a personal connection with the patients I see every day, and I want to provide a place where they can be known and appreciated by an entire staff of community members who want the best for them. Most of all, I want my perspective of the world to be challenged every day by the patients I see and the problems they face. With limited access to specialists making it even more important for patients in rural areas to have high-quality comprehensive care from their primary care providers, I want to train in a place that will give me experience with all specialty fields and allow me to put that into practice by managing my own panel of complex patients each week. The idea of being able to reach out and serve “the underserved” is exactly what drew me to medicine so many years ago, and I am confident that TIP would give me the skills, knowledge, and supportive networking community to serve the underserved population of rural Michigan well for the rest of my career.