As my time as a UA-Pickens County Fellow comes to a close, I wanted to reflect on my experiences in the county over the last year. In July, I will start medical school, which will fulfill a dream that I have had since I was 7 years old. Though I have always known that I want to be a doctor, I have never been able to definitively say what field of medicine I want to pursue. After this last year working with the county, I am definitely closer to figuring that out; however, I’ve also learned something even more important this year: there is nothing more fulfilling or important to me than serving the underserved. After working in Pickens County, I now believe that the future of healthcare is outside of the hospital and in the heart of the community. As such, I anticipate a future career serving alongside community leaders, aiming to improve healthcare delivery so that all residents have access to quality health care, regardless of their social or economic status.
In the last year, I have taught nutrition education to high school and elementary students across Pickens County. On my very first day, I remember Dean Streiffer saying something that I will keep in mind forever: the word “doctor” actually means “teacher.” Although that initial connection may be hard to make, I have learned that the best doctors are really just outstanding teachers that dedicate their lives to teaching health. One of the best doctors I’ve ever met was an orthopedic surgeon I met when I was in high school. What makes him stand out in my memory was his willingness to teach me on a level that I would be able to understand as a 15-year-old. Whether it was drawing a diagram of the ligaments in my knee on the paper lining the exam table, or explaining biologically why my knee was swollen, I learned from him.
This last year has taught me that education drives change and that the importance of a quality health education cannot be overstated; in the future, I envision a career in academic medicine in which I will be able to combine my passion for research with caring for patients and teaching, which has been one of the most genuinely fulfilling experiences I have had in Pickens County.
As evidenced by the recent addition of sociology and psychology on the MCAT and the evolving requirements for admission into medical school, medicine is becoming a more holistic field. Physicians are learning to treat “health” in a much broader sense. Witnessing the social determinants of health firsthand this year in Pickens County will undoubtedly make me a better physician in the future. As someone who has a background in the natural sciences, it was initially challenging for me to understand how things that are not biological in nature can have such a profound impact on physiological processes within our bodies; after spending a year away from the microscope and interacting with the people of Pickens County, I can definitively say that is no longer the case and my understanding of this will guide my medical practice in the future.
I am thankful that I was in Pickens County to witness the development of this project, and I anxiously await a reunion in which I can meet the people from Gordo to Carrollton—and every mile of Highway 86 in between—that have been impacted by the work of this partnership.
Thank you, Pickens County, for the opportunity of a lifetime.