Thursday, May 13, 2021

#theVIPexperience Post #136: Shivani Reddy

 I started working with Crossroad Health Center in the fall of 2020. By then we were still

very much in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but luckily, most places had more or less

adjusted to the “new normal” and I was getting used to the idea that most of my interactions

would be via a screen. I was excited to volunteer with Crossroad because even with the remote

requirements, it was still a chance for some patient interaction.


Walking into this program, I was familiar with the various health disparities that plague

this country. The Black Lives Matter protests and a general rise in racism towards the Asian

community made it agonizingly clear that plenty of systems are broken, and the healthcare

system is no exception. However, knowing something in your head from reading articles or

listening to news reports is not the same as picking up the phone and speaking to someone living

that reality. As the weeks went by, I began to learn so much more about the daunting barriers

I’ve been privileged enough to never have to wonder about.


One of the most surprising things I learned right off the bat was that certain insurance

companies offered transportation to and from doctor’s appointments. While the need for such a

service makes perfect sense, I can’t say it was a problem that ever really crossed my mind. Now

when I think about it though, it feels silly to have ever assumed someone would have a reliable

car, a family member or close friend willing to drive them, or access to public transportation to

get to an appointment.


The other thing I was forced to be more aware of was financial aid needs. Unlike

transportation, I was well aware that affordability of care is one of the starkest and obvious

issues with getting healthcare. Still, it was heartbreaking to talk to patients and have to cancel

appointments because their insurance simply would not cover enough or any of the cost. For the

most part, it is usually possible to find an office somewhere in the area that will accept a patient’s

insurance, but it can take a lot of time and energy. It’s one thing to do it as a volunteer with a 4-

hour time block set aside to search for things like that, but it’s another thing to be the patient

yourself. Not only do they probably have other things to do with their lives, but there’s a good

chance they’re in physical or mental pain due to whatever issue is requiring them to see a

specialist.


The last thing that really stood out to me was the patient population itself. Upon entering

this program, I understood a part of Crossroad’s mission was to provide aid to underserved

patient populations. In my head I expected this to mean racial minorities, individuals of a lower

socioeconomic class, or people who had difficulties speaking and understanding English. I was

correct to anticipate such groups but discovered that the overwhelming majority of patients also

suffered from one or more mental illnesses. It makes me think about the stigma that surrounds

mental health and how that too becomes a barrier to proper healthcare.


There were plenty of times I left my shift feeling angry or frustrated by just how difficult

or time-consuming it could be to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Yet there have also been

plenty of times where I got to speak to a patient and hear their gratitude firsthand for such a

small thing like calling up a hospital. It’s better that I be the one to find the right office and make

all the phone calls while I have the time and energy set aside to do it, and hopefully the patient

can relax a little and trust that things are being taking care of.


Once I called a woman either to remind her of an upcoming appointment or to notify her

that an appointment had been made. She then goes on to talk to me about her daughters and how

she’s been wanting to get them in to see a counselor but felt like no one has been able to help

her. I listened to her speak and could hear the despair lacing her voice that comes with feeling

ignored. The phone call lasted for much longer than I had anticipated, and I didn’t get many

words in, but I think she was relieved to have someone just listen to her and I was more than

willing to oblige. I was able to help her out and when I called her back with an update her voice

was filled with happiness instead. Another time I called a woman to get her availability for an

appointment and she answered the phone with something close to downright anger. She was in a

lot of pain and told me no one seemed to care to do anything about it. She ranted for a little while

and again, I didn’t get a chance to say much in response, but I think she needed to air her

frustrations. I’m not sure what her experience with Crossroad or any healthcare center had been

before I called her that day, but her disappointment was clear. I was determined to at the very

least find the specialist she wanted and get an appointment scheduled. As luck would have it, I

was able to find something for the very next day and when I called her back to deliver the news

she claimed I had “restored her faith”. Granted I do think she gave me too much credit for

making a phone call, but it was one of those situations that solidified my dream of becoming a

physician because hearing the appreciation in a patient’s voice is one of the best feelings. A big

lesson I’ve learned volunteering at this program is that simply listening to a patient and allowing

them the space to vent a little can go a long way in showing that you care. After all, it is a

healthcare worker’s job to provide care, but that goes beyond healing their body. In the future

when I start working as a doctor, I hope, at the very least, my patients always feel heard.

#theVIPexperience Post #135: Logan Lake

The first time I heard about Crossroad Health Center was entirely unrelated to my roles as a student, active community member, or future physician; instead, it was as a patient. Only after being personally served by Crossroad did I come to learn about the opportunity to become a volunteer intern. Being able to draw upon my own experiences and emotions has certainly made being compassionate and empathetic towards patients more reflexive than I think would be possible had I lacked this particular route of care in my own health history. The mission of Crossroad Health Center, and all efforts to improve access to quality care for that matter, is something I have become increasingly passionate about in my time as a student and volunteer. My personal challenges pale in comparison to those of most of our patients. But having just that extra bit of understanding, knowing the feelings of not being heard or respected or cared for, having seen the instant dismissal of your life’s worth once a practitioner or clerical worker see the type of insurance you do or don’t carry, motivates me so strongly to never, ever be the provider that makes a patient feel any less valued as a human being.  

When I first began this internship I didn’t really understand what I was getting into. I knew that the mission of Crossroad was something I cared about, but I wasn’t quite sure how I, a student with no clinical certifications or training, could make a real difference in people’s lives. By the end of the training, I better understood my role, but I was so nervous to begin talking to real patients on the phone. It took the better part of my first rotation to become comfortable reaching out to patients, physician offices, insurance and transportation companies, but by the end making calls was no big deal. My communication skills, especially over the phone, have developed a huge amount since beginning this internship. I no longer need a script or anything in front of me when I call a patient. I always ask how they’re doing and how their day is going before I get into the specifics of my call’s purpose, something I would’ve worried was too unprofessional in the beginning. I have been in situations where patients just need someone to listen to their worries or their pain and tell them that they matter and that it’s going to be okay. If this had happened when I first started I would be beside myself with what to say to someone who is telling me all about how their back pain keeps them up at night and prevents them from living a normal life. I’ve learned that there’s no script that tells you how to be a human, and how to give a person the time and words they need. You’ve got to put yourself in the patient’s seat, imagine their emotions, being cautious to not erase their individual being from consideration and to instead integrate it with your own, and then respond with what feels right. 

There are so many transferable skills and lessons that come from participating in the VIP program. From the soft things like communication skills and teamwork to a more procedural understanding of our convoluted healthcare system, the experience of being a VIP offers invaluable insight into the world of patients, providers, and the systemic bounds within which they operate. 

#theVIPexperience Post #134: Aneesh Kathula

Having heard of the VIP program at Crossroad before coming to UC, I knew I wanted to be a VIP. I had

heard many good things from my brother’s friends about the program and knew it was something that

would be beneficial to my experience while also helping others in the Cincinnati community gain access

to healthcare. Joining the VIP during the pandemic was a little strange at first, but it was nice to have

something impactful to do during quarantine to make the pandemic feel less lonely. The monthly

meetings as well as talking to patients during the pandemic was a nice change of pace from online

classes and no human interaction besides my family—it gave a sense of normalcy through the pandemic.

As a future physician, Crossroad has given me the experience to not only strengthen my communication

skills with patients but also gain experience working within a team in a healthcare setting—two crucial

components of being a successful physician. Without Crossroad, I would not have gained the confidence

to talk to someone while only knowing their medical history and nothing else. Being a VIP has also given

me an outlet to support my Cincinnati community, while also giving me the means to lower barriers to

accessing healthcare, something I am truly passionate about. The VIP program has given me the grounds

to start that goal and I am grateful for it.


I would recommend any student wanting to pursue a field in healthcare to volunteer as a VIP in order to

give them more experience and truly make an impact in people’s lives through their healthcare.

#theVIPexperience Post #133: Noor Amir

When COVID hit the world, I became concerned about my ability to gain healthcare experience as a pre-med student. Then I discovered Crossroad Health Center and how they were offering students the ability to be involved in healthcare during a pandemic in a safe and appropriate manner. This truly excited me because I felt that I was finally going to be able to connect with others and learn about this field during a time when everything is being conducted remotely. I contacted a few volunteers from this program and learned all about the wonderful work Crossroads does and the impact it has had on their life. Therefore, I decided that I would apply and hoped to gain a spot on this team of inspiring and dedicated students. When I joined Crossroads, I immediately felt that the cohort of students were all well organized and passionate about this program. I was trained and they were welcoming about any questions I had, and I loved to see how the program had adapted during COVID, which speaks to the resilience of its team. After my first shift I felt really proud to call myself a volunteer for Crossroads because while I have shadowed before, this was a unique type of healthcare experience I had never been a part of before. I felt that I could see the real-life outcome of each of my shifts and I felt like an integral member of a healthcare team for the first time ever. One thing that has always ignited my passion to work in this field is the ability to learn about someone's life and connect with them. Crossroads has provided me with a distinctive and dynamic experience in the field of healthcare that has taught me critical skills that will continue to help me in the future. 

 

#theVIPexperience Post #132: Sachi Shukla

 Due to COVID-19, I have not been able to do any in-person volunteering experience. At

first, I was disappointed that I would not be able to contribute to my community during such

difficult times without putting other people at risk. I soon learned about and applied to a virtual

internship here at Crossroads, a health center that provides care to underserved populations in

the Cincinnati area. As a referral specialist, I schedule appointments and transportation, serving

as a liaison between patients and doctors. On the surface, this seems a minor step to receiving

care. However, I have come to realize that transportation, time to schedule appointments, and

even phone minutes are considered luxuries for many. These past few months have been a truly

humbling experience, illuminating the profound impact poverty has on healthcare accessibility,

especially within minority communities. I have also witnessed how COVID-19 has exacerbated

these disparities, with many patients having increasingly limited financial resources and time.

While I am not able to see these patients in person, their struggles and stories are ever-present. I

love having the opportunity to serve as an advocate for patients, making sure to communicate

with different providers in a respectful and efficient manner. This experience has also allowed

me to recognize my own privilege and continues to fuel me to understand the socioeconomic

context of each individual and how it impacts their access to healthcare. Although I may not be

able to volunteer in person for a while, I am proud of my role and being able to serve as a source

of solace and reliability in a time where that is scarce.

#theVIPexperience Post #131: Naomi Admasu

Entering college, I was under the impression that I wanted to pursue a medical career. It was shortly after beginning my first semester that I realized that wasn’t for me. Although I knew I was interested in healthcare, I wasn’t sure where I fit. I soon discovered public health. As I began learning about health disparities and social determinants of health, I quickly searched for organizations I could join as this was where my passion was. I discovered Crossroad Health Center and was drawn to the Volunteer Intern Program. I knew I wanted to play a part in making healthcare accessible for all patients. There are so many systemic factors that make it difficult for people to receive the healthcare they deserve and although I didn’t yet know what specific role Crossroad Volunteer Interns played in improving accessibility, I applied to the program. 

As I began familiar with the tasks Crossroad Volunteer Interns perform, I knew this is something that is essential for underserved populations. I was eager and hesitant to begin because I would be beginning my first rotation remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I vividly remember making my first call to a patient. As I called the first medical provider, I knew they heard the hesitancy in my voice. At this point in the program, I can say that I have grown so much. I am currently in the midst of my second rotation, and I can confidently say I have grown comfortable in this role. I love speaking with patients and building trust with them. I have gained many professional skills including speaking not only to patients but with providers as well. Additionally, the number of calls I make has increased from my first rotation. This work is so important and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a VIP. 

#theVIPexperience Post #130: Michelle Nguyen

 I was aware of the Crossroad Volunteer Intern Program (CVIP) throughout my college career but never

applied to it due to the fear of commitment and the lack of confidence in myself. As I look back now, I

honestly wish I applied earlier and join this community of driven, passionate individuals even sooner.

This program has allowed me to be a voice for those who feel their voice are not being heard and

amplify those who are using their voice. It opened my eyes to the plethora of barriers that one would

face just to receive proper healthcare. If I can improve the livelihoods of patients and make quality

healthcare more accessible, I gladly will continue to bear some of those burdens off of them (inside and

outside of the program).


This is my second rotation with Crossroad and numerous opportunities to learn and connect with the

community are always being offered. I am able to grow personally and professionally by honing in on my

communication skills. Whether I am gathering information from the patient to schedule their referral or

showing tips and tricks to a fellow Crossroad Volunteer, communication is key. As cheesy as it sounds, it

is true. When I actively listen to the patients about their lives and preferences, it makes the whole

experience more personable and worthwhile. This program has given me joy and strengthens my passion

to aid others. It allowed me to experience the hoops some patients have to encounter when they try to

better their lifestyles. It has allowed me to empathize with them and question how can I make this aspect

of their life easier.


I am grateful and humbled to be a part of the Crossroad Health Center. Through my experiences, I am

further committed to advocate for patients and to provide the resources they need to improve their

well-being. Even though an action like making a reminder call or asking them how they are doing may

seem small, the connection that the patient could feel can greatly influence their perception towards

health care. So as a CVIP, you have the chance to make a difference in this community with each person

you meet. By supporting one another, we are able to rise together.