My role as Health Literacy Coordinator involved organizing health classes for newly arrived refugee families. A typical day included calling volunteers, interpreters, and caseworkers to ensure that all components of each class came together. I would also meet with the refugee families in person to explain the purpose of the health class and answer any questions they had about the healthcare system in America. For refugees that were already educated, I would offer 1-on-1 “special topic” health classes in which they had the chance to ask questions regarding specifics (e.g. distinctions between private/public medicine, how to refill prescriptions, etc.). Outside of health literacy, I also had the opportunity to shadow physicians and interpreters in the clinic, attend provider meetings on new cases, assist our refugee specialist, and even work at the front desk. This diversity of work challenged me in new and fruitful ways and provided me with a much fuller picture of how an internationally-focused nonprofit clinic operates.
During my time at Siloam, I noticed a painting hanging in the office of our Behavioral Health Consultant. The painting showed three different depictions of the same white dove: one dove was spreading its wings to fly in a field of green, one dove was locked in a cage in the dark, and one dove was burning alive in a fire. When Rebecca noticed my interest in the painting, she explained that it was a gift from one of her patients, a male refugee from the Middle East. When he came to see Rebecca, the man struggled to talk about the horrors he had witnessed and endured in his homeland, so he painted them instead – the three doves, he explained to Rebecca, were all him, just at different times. Rebecca keeps the painting hung up in her office as a reminder of the importance of the work of Siloam. After spending a summer surrounded by such an incredible and driven staff, I understand why. The most educational experience actually came in the conversations that Dr. McPherson and I had over breakfast. Learning more about the bearing that medicine has had on his personal life was invaluable, and it was refreshing to hear such an honest and thorough depiction of the physician’s life as whole. Dr. McPherson’s insights definitely reinvigorated my motivation to continue on the path to med school, which is a testimony to just how valuable the alumni partner connection can be! My experiences at Siloam, combined with those at Vanderbilt with Dr. McPherson, have confirmed my interest in a medical career and stretched me in ways that will doubtlessly prove to be invaluable in the future.