During my past ten months of service as a Patient Assistance Program (PAP) advocate through the Philadelphia Health Corps, I have often struggled to explain to my friends and family why I love what I do every day at the clinic. When the program won a National Service Impact Award a few weeks ago and I was interviewed for a story that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer, I met the same challenge. After I had detailed what I do day to day, the reporter made a comment that caught me off guard. He couldn’t understand why I was so passionate about a job that sounded like “just a lot of paperwork” to him.
He was partially right; a good portion of my day is spent doing basic office work, seemingly trivial tasks like sending faxes, making phone calls, and editing Excel spreadsheets. But, the payoff is huge, a fact I am reminded of every time I work with a patient. Without my help, these patients would not be able to afford their medications and would go without them. For most, this would be a serious lapse in care. With my help, these patients don’t have to make the impossible decision between purchasing medication and paying a bill.
And yet, it is so much more than providing medication. Over the year, I have gotten to know my patients. I have been moved by their stories of tragedy and inspired by their resilience. There have been tears, heavy moments of silence, laughter, and expressions of gratitude. There have been conflicts, resolutions, and hugs. These are the memories that will stay with me.
In the same newspaper story, the reporter quoted one of my patients, who called me his “guardian angel.” The term surprised me at first; I guess I didn’t realize the impact I had made on him. It’s easy to forget how much a smile, a listening ear, and a kind word can mean to someone who has no other support system.
My AmeriCorps experience has been life changing. There have been many challenges, but I have come out a more compassionate and confident individual. I have a clearer sense of the barriers to access health care that exist in our current system, and I have learned how to begin to overcome them. I have also learned a lot about myself. But, I could not have made it through this year without the support of the other PHC members. So to all of you and everyone who has helped me through this year, I want to say thank you. It has truly been an incredible year, and I will miss you all.
-Sarah McIntyre, Philadelphia Department of Public Health