By: Suzie Martikyan, Emily Shibata, Karanjot Kaur, and Elizabeth Oh.
Within the small church found in Pomona, CA, on a quiet Saturday afternoon, waves of people came into the cafeteria for information regarding their health. With tables lining the circumference of the room, students from our institution were volunteering their time in addressing various health issues ranging from diabetes, hypertension, and for us, foot care. Across the room, we would see pharmacy students, osteopathic medical students, dental students, optometry students and more, all setting up to serve. Although the American Association of Women Podiatrists (AAWP) is one of the youngest podiatric clubs on campus, with its inception only two years ago, it is arguably one of the better integrated organizations within our institution. The community outreach aspect of the AAWP, in particular, is one that is admired due to the humble stance the club has on showing up and serving vulnerable communities. In this particular event, the strength was not only exhibited in the numbers of volunteers willing to show up, but also the thoughtful intention in unifying in a place central and well known to this community. This church specifically has a history of providing surrounding homeless communities with a hot meal every week, as well as annual Thanksgiving dinners that are hand delivered to homes, in addition to the spiritual services commonly seen in churches. As the chasm of distrust is seemingly widening between the public and providers, it is those who show up to serve without placing judgement that will have the ears of the public.
Our booth, in particular, was enthusiastically staffed with four volunteers who brought a wheel of questions enticing attendees to stop by and participate. From toddlers to the elderly, we had many people come up to us and participate, often with great amusement to questions like, “how much more force does your feet encounter when running versus walking?” Incentives of foam stress items in the shape of feet were laid out along with other knick-knacks like foot shaped pens. Teenagers came up to us and asked us about our journeys and where we grew up. Colleagues from the different colleges came up to us and asked us about optimal shoe gear for the clinic. Meals were also provided to the attendees that were present. The entire event was beautiful because there was so much engagement and joy present.
With engagement and attentiveness, the volunteers of AAWP had accomplished what the essence of community service brings: a connection.
One memorable encounter two of our members had was with a middle aged gentleman who sat down and spoke with our members for about two hours. The exchanges of information originated from general inquiries of our knowledge regarding foot issues and trivia guided by our spinning wheel of questions. Once the initial topics of foot care fizzled out, the conversation began to extend beyond medicine and spill over into conversations about his family, passions, and goals. With engagement and attentiveness, the volunteers of AAWP had accomplished what the essence of community service brings: a connection. With the understanding of this man’s perceptions of life and understanding his goals, these volunteers were better able to guide his questions of navigating his health. As we live in the age of booming technology and social media, the chances for moments like these seems almost rare.
This year, in particular, with the COVID-19 pandemic well into its rising trend across nations globally, discussions on social interactions will be called into question. The value of human interconnectedness will be challenged to fight against the safety and health of others. It is imperative to aim for a future that these two aspects of care are not mutually exclusive. Community service shapes people and viewpoints that allow us to be better physicians and caretakers. It allows us to understand people and also to guide discussions with compromises in order for others to be understood. Currently, there is an overwhelming sense of confusion and fatigue looming in the medical communities and the public alike with this pandemic. The fight to stand together is visibly unsettling and frustrating at the least. While most of the health care battalion is set on getting the proper information, the dissemination of information has been another battle in itself. Should we place most of our ammunition on finding a person that the public will trust? Is there such a person?
We all have something to learn from each other, and one can only see that once they have been a part of something greater than themselves.
As we move forward into the future, the call to integrate more into these communities would tip the trajectory of trust higher in the eyes of the public as well as align this trajectory with the “compliance” that we often, as health professionals, seek at times to a desperate extent. The service seen through AAWP highlights many aspects of service that we should aim to continue. This should include an interdisciplinary approach to community health access, as well as exemplifying the humanism often taught to us within medical school. We all have something to learn from each other, and one can only see that once they have been a part of something greater than themselves. Community service events like ours are the roots of where trust is born and where community unites us to move in a direction where everyone benefits. To quote the famous Dr. Armstrong: “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.” It is with this posture that health care providers will be propelled forward to truly make a difference in this world.
In conclusion, the call to serve others is a symbiotic relationship. We give and we all gain. In our community service events, we have seen the sowing of the seeds to many relationships that connect healthcare workers to the community. It has been acknowledged to the club that events like these are necessary especially for vulnerable communities who have mixed information about the status of their care. As medical students, we also see this as a window to see what barriers some of our patients will soon be faced with in regards to our care. There is great value in understanding your weaknesses and having time to gather and assess what ways you can mitigate future conundrums. How can we show we care? How will they trust us? How can we do better? The answer is simple: continue to serve.
By: Suzie Martikyan, Emily Shibata, Karanjot Kaur, and Elizabeth Oh.
Student Organization: AAWP
School: Western University College of Podiatric Medicine
The Power of Many: (2nd Place Writing Competition 2020)
2nd Place – Writing Competition 2020
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