By Michele Hasit, AmeriCorps Health Coach

I joined AmeriCorps as a way to continue my service after being evacuated from my Peace Corps program in Niger. I was reluctant at first; I wanted to finish my service in somewhere more exotic, a place where I could learn a new language and a new culture. But as time passed and I wasn’t finding the “right” program, I started to rethink serving a vulnerable community close to home.

What came next shocked me. I thought that by working about 10 miles away from where I grew up, it would be easy for me to find my way and immediately understand my surroundings. I found it to be quite the opposite. How could I have culture shock in the same county I grew up in? As I started my role as a health coach, I was immediately relieved that I’ve had public health training. Even if I wasn’t totally familiar with the community, I knew the basic principles of public health, and the importance of the culture of a community in relation to its health and well-being. With a public health background, I do not have the clinical training to diagnose, manage medications, or make any clinical decisions or suggestions. However, I’ve been in clinical environments where I’ve been able to use my expertise to look at people as more than just patients, and to discover who they are as people and how that directly affects their health.

I was excited about this work. As a health coach, I go into people’s homes, which seemed scary at first. But the more time I spent driving around Camden, the less scary it became, and the more I began to take in my surroundings. As I explored where my patients lived, I started to become more observant about their neighborhoods and the available resources, and how this made a great impact on their health.

I’ve been blessed with people skills. I love meeting new people, learning their stories, and forming meaningful relationships. One of the things I loved most of my time in Niger was the ability to form deep connections with Nigeriens, despite very few obvious similarities between us. Camden is no different. I come from a different background, and have very few shared experiences with my patients. However, I am still able to maintain strong bonds with Camden residents, and am constantly learning from them. This ability, I feel, has made me a successful health coach. As health coaches, we are there for our patients when things become difficult. We help them navigate the health system, by accompanying to numerous specialty appointments. We go to the board of social services with them, serving as extra support when they need to get necessary documentation for resources. The part that is most special though, is celebrating with our patients. Whether it’s positive lab results, or the engagement of a family member, we celebrate. I’ve received phone calls from patients just to share good news or to check in. And this by far, has been the most rewarding.

The true value of health coaches is that we treat our patients not as patients, but as people. We care about what’s going on in their lives and want to learn about it all, not just diagnoses. As I finish up my last week as a health coach, I look back on the year and treasure the time I’ve spent with my patients. Whether in their homes or in their doctor’s office, I’ve been able to learn about who they are, and tried to use that to help them better their health and overall well-being. Everyone has a story that adds value to our community, and as health coaches, we have the privilege to be a part of them.

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