Pharmacy Advocacy and Service Learning in Columbus 2019

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the pharmaceutical sciences field in Central Ohio. As a new member of the Advocacy Collaborative, I spent these past four months learning about the different avenues of pharmacy advocacy I could participate in Columbus.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

My STEP Signature Project challenged me to think about how I impact my community as a university student and, on a greater scale, a future pharmacy advocate. I value my professors and advisors that Ohio State has gifted me with, but there is a limit to knowledge in classroom material that must be sought out after in the field itself. It was clear that I would get that hands-on experience at my technician position at Kroger Pharmacy. But it was through the Advocacy Collaborative that I finally imagined the reach I can have beyond Central Ohio.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

During my STEP Signature project, I was introduced to numerous local and national pharmacy advocacy communities that I can utilize now, my time in pharmacy school, and beyond. Ohio Pharmacists Association is a state branch of a larger organization, American Pharmacists Association, that I briefly learned about in my introductory pharmacy classes. However, I had the opportunity to learn about the breadth of their impact on state legislation. It all begins and ends with their purpose to unite pharmacists and encourage them to advocate for the field, something I have always strongly believed in. OPA motivates me to rally others with me to advocate for healthcare legislation.

Additionally, I was able to visit Washington DC for a weekend to explore the landscape of pharmacy advocacy. A future in DC has always been a lofty dream of mine, but I always believed that the city was only meant for public affair and political science hopefuls. I thought that I would feel out of place as a pharmacist in our nation’s capital. However, this trip showed me that this city had so much more to offer and that, not only was there a place for me as a pharmacist, but it was a necessary space for all healthcare professionals and the future of healthcare. This greatly helped me gain perspective and my future beyond Columbus.

Lastly, I’m fortunate to have met Natalie Hagy, a second-year pharmacy student at the Ohio State University’s College of Pharmacy. She remains a role model for me as a begin my journey into pharmacy school and advocacy. At the end of the day, I will still be a pharmacy student, learning the science behind disease states and learning bedside manners. But, meeting her has given me validation that I can still remain true to myself and pursue my lofty dreams.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

As an undergraduate student, I’m extremely passionate about the pharmaceutical sciences field and find it important to empower healthcare professionals to advocate for themselves and their community. It’s greatly influenced me to pursue a career in healthcare economics and legislation. While my passion originates from my childhood in Central Ohio, this transformation was imperative to grow into a mindset of being a pharmacy advocate on a greater scale.

 

India CFHI 2 week intensive public health trip

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

 

My STEP project consisted of different NGO visits in India for two weeks. We visited different NGOs that worked with different public health issues like cancer support, harm reduction, TB prevention, etc… Additionally, in these two weeks, we took part in a public health and health disparities lecture.

 

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place. 

 

This trip was a life changing experience. It impacted my view of world and increased my knowledge of different cultures. Through this trip, I was able to understand the different global public health issues and the effect of culture in the ways public health officials tackle these issues. During this trip, I witnessed so many struggles an individual faced. Each NGO wasn’t designed to tackle one issue but rather multiple issues as many public health problems were correlated together. It was unfortunate to notice the extent of poverty that the people living in these areas faced and lack of governmental support they received. All in all, this experience increased my awareness about global health and the issues impacting these populations. Additionally, I learned to work with people of different cultures and increased my cultural competency for my future work as well. 

 

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation. 

 

There were multiple interactions, relationships and activities that impacted my world view. First of all, the increase in cultural competency was through the constant interactions with the local populations. In the program, we were placed in local housing which is why we lived like  a local and used the public transportation system that the local used. Additionally, we were able to interact with target populations of these NGOs and understand their perspective on the public health issues. My ability to speak Hindi, brought down the language barrier and helped me better understand the populations and their cultures. Through this increased interaction and decreased language barrier, I was able to increase my cultural competency and better understand the locals and their perspective on these issues. 

 

Additionally, through visiting different NGOs, I was able to understand the public health issues India was facing. I witnessed the extreme levels of poverty people were facing. Every NGO we volunteered at, didn’t just focus on one issue, but rather looked at different problems. Even if the NGO’s focus was on HIV prevention, they would also look at TB, providing shelter, providing food, etc… It was shocking to see the extent of different issues these populations faced and the necessity of tackling multiple correlated issues along with the main focus of the NGO. This taught me the importance at looking at more than just the one issue because so many issues were correlated and so many different aspects affect it. 

 

Lastly, I also learned that there are parallels between United States and India. Problems facing India are similar to some problems that US also faces. For example, harm reduction is stigmatized in India and people often refrain from accepting this type of solution in their society. Likewise, this type of stigmatization is also prevalent in the United States as harm reduction is stigmatized here as well. This impacted my view of the world as a public health student. It was always difficult understanding global public health issues as the focus is always on infectious diseases in third world countries. Through this trip, I was able to see the other side and the emerging chronic diseases similar to that of United States.

 

 

 

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

 

This change related is very valuable for my personal and professional life. As mentioned above, this trip was life changing. I am Indian, but I have not been to India in the last 11 years. During this trip, I was better able to embrace my culture and decrease the misconceptions I had about India. I absolutely fell in love with India and it was an empowering experience to independently navigate through the country. 

 

Also, this trip is significantly valuable for my future and professional plans. I have always been interested in global health, but I was not very experienced in the field. Through this trip, I had the opportunity to understand the workings of global health and different public health issues effecting global countries. I absolutely loved working in the field and understanding the work of public health officials in India. It increased my interests in global public health and I was able to talk to professionals that are working in global public health. This trip has motivated me to pursue global public health as career.

CFHI – 2-week Public Health Internship in New Delhi

 

My STEP Signature Project entailed a two week volunteering trip to New Delhi, India. We visited non-profit organizations that catered to various issues in the society like cancer support for the low-income class, TB prevention programs, needle exchange program, HIV/AIDS prevention, etc. We also shadowed the local rural clinics to gain perspective about the Indian health care system.

 

Visiting the field and observing the environments that the healthcare professionals and patients dealt with was eye-opening. It is unbelievable to see the barriers that patients have to encounter to receive proper healthcare. This changed my view because it was difficult to understand that the healthcare system had totally different problems than the issues that we face here in America. For example, the physicians in India rarely asked for the patient’s consent as we observed them, in fact, the doctors openly talked about the patient’s medical records to us. This was shocking because in the US we have the strict policy HIPAA but this did not exist in India. Although this made me realize that India had its own separate set of problems in medical care. For example, lack of education, lack of funding and sustainable treatment are just a few to name. Therefore, this trip made me more culturally competent and I became more aware of the problems that the population of India faces every day. I also realized that just one solution is not enough to solve the healthcare problem in India, there needs to be a culmination of resources to provide proper healthcare like funding, a safe environment, a fair government, and sustainable living.

 

There were multiple events and shocking and humbling experiences that led to a life altering STEP experience. I went into this program with an open mind and ready to help anywhere and any way the population that we would be serving. When I arrived in India, I was dropped off at my accommodation and I had to figure out my own way of getting familiar to the environment. This taught me early on to build relationships with the people that I met through the program. I learned to adapt and find comfort in my new environment.

We began our volunteering trip by visiting a Cancer Support Center in rural Delhi. This place provided free support or a minimal fee to patients suffering with cancer. There were five volunteers on this trip and we were all cramped in the tiny clinic room with the doctor as patients entered and left every five minutes. One of the patients that walked in had a great impact on me. She walked in with her head draped with a sari and head ducked down as she entered. As she sat down she looked around and began to explain her husband’s worsening cancer to the doctor. As the doctor took notes, her voice broke and she looked at me. I could see tears in her eyes as she spoke to me in Hindi, “I have so many problems, my husband is sick all the time…there are just so many problems”. At this point I froze for a second and put myself in her shoes. Her husband must have been her main source of income and now he was suffering through a debilitating mouth cancer. She had to pay for her husband’s medications, take care of her kids, and handle her own job as a home caretaker. Keeping this in mind, I reached out to her shoulders and looked her in the eyes and said, “Sab theek ho jayega” which translated into “Everything will be okay”. The truth was I didn’t know if her husband would get better or if her money problems would finally resolve but I did know that she needed hope and positivity at a time like this.

This experience opened my eyes to the real population of India and the struggles that they went through to gain healthcare. I realized that even in the face of so much hardship it was important for them to keep a positive mindset because there was no other option. I also realized that every healthcare system is different and it also depends on the political, economic, and social issues of the nation.

For example, I noticed that just having the right medication for a disorder was not enough. In medicine, I have been taught to think that the basics of healthcare is that medication is the key to any kind of sickness or disease. But my mindset changed when I visited Sharan, a needle-exchange program in Delhi. Here, they also offered buprenorphine as treatment for opioid addiction. We also walked around the park where most of the population consuming opioids resided. The park was strewn with bottles of a certain over the counter drug called Avil, which they used to get high. As we walked further into the park we saw men laying on the grass, sleeping, some seemed to be in their own high as they rested their head in their hands. This was a terrifying sight because seeing this problem in person, I wanted to help each and everyone one of them. I felt helpless at this moment as I passed through the park. When we spoke to the doctor at the Sharan clinic, we asked her how well buprenorphine was working for the population. We were shocked by her answer as she candidly said, “It’s not working. It is not looking good for this population and this is all that we can do.” I was stumped at her response. How could they just not know what to do? In the healthcare field, it is our aim to find the solution to a problem. That is the reason I want to become a doctor and knowing that there was no solution this problem bothered me. This was a learning experience because I learnt that every issue did not have a solution, in fact, even though there was buprenorphine available it was not working. This was due to the multiple factors that came into play like low government funds, no halfway homes,  and no proper education. This was a transforming experience because I was forced to face not just the harsh reality of the opioid crisis but the struggles of the Indian healthcare system in general.

This is a picture of the other volunteers and I at a non-profit that helped outcast women with vocational training. They dressed us up in saris and that they had designed and made at the center.

This experience was transformational because I got to apply everything that I have learned in the classroom in real life. This helped shape my view of the healthcare system in India and I got to learn a lot about the medical field. As a future physician, this trip was key in understanding all the other factors that affect the quality of healthcare, most importantly, I realized that even having the cure in the form of medication is not enough to resolve diseases. Therefore, I learned that it is important to take account a patient’s lifestyle and their social and economic issues while treating patients.

I also learned that in the face of adversity and even when it seems like there is no solution to a problem it is never okay to give up. Through the doctor at Sharan, I realized that it is still important to have hope and wake up and show up to your job despite knowing that it may not resolve the issue or cure someone.

Volunteering at Grant Medical Hospital

For my STEP signature project, I spent my time volunteering at Grant Medical Hospital in downtown Columbus. It is a not for profit hospital and a level one trauma center so it is a very busy place to be. While I did get to experience many different departments, most of my time was spent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the Cardiology Surgical floor, and the Bone and Joint Post Anesthesia Care Unit. My specific duties in each department varied, but my overall role was to better the experience of every patient and their family in the hospital, whether it be getting them food, a blanket, showing a smile, or getting to sit and talk with them.

Due to Grant’s location being in downtown Columbus and the fact that it is one of the major trauma centers in its area, I was able to witness an extremely diverse group of people. I interacted with patients who came from all over the city and had different backgrounds, beliefs, needs, and financial statuses. Getting to know and learn about these differences, there was times where I had to step back and appreciate the diversity which was laid out in front of me. It showed me the beauty in the fact that everyone was so different, and set a precedent for how important it is in any career that I enter to be aware of this and have practice interacting with different groups of people. It also reminded me that there are in fact groups in society who are underserved and that we should do all we can to make a change.

Another assumption of mine that changed from this project is my view of the hospital. My perception of the hospital prior to this project was that it is very hectic, has people running from one place to the other constantly, patients yelling, and a lot of sad people in waiting rooms. While the circumstances which bring people to the hospital may be unfortunate, I learned that the hospital is actually a positive place. It is full of people hoping to make meaningful interactions and changes in another’s life. There is so much that is done to ensure that all who enter Grant Hospital have a great experience and are taken care of properly. It made me love being there because it is such a caring atmosphere with charismatic employees, which completely shaped my perception of that sector of health care.

For me, my entire STEP project was about interactions, and I made many which will be beneficial to me in the future. First, I got to interact with many medical professionals which is important to me as my future aspirations involve entering the medical field, hopefully as a doctor. These interactions could not have been more educational as well as inspirational. Most of my time in the different units was spent with nurses who were more than happy to answer any and all of my questions whether they dealt with patient care or hospital protocol. I was able to observe all that they were doing, which was very interesting. There were several doctors I had the chance to introduce myself to that gave me career advice and told me a bit about what helped them get to the point that they are. These interactions taught me a lot about the fields in which I was volunteering in as well as what it takes to get there.

Secondly, being able to view the way that the medical professionals interact with patients is a huge takeaway from this experience and contributed to my perception of the hospital as a whole. The doctors and nurses that I was around provided nothing but the best form of care for everyone they encountered. They cared for the patients as if they were their own family members. I observed how hard they work to make sure a patient is comfortable and not in pain. I really enjoyed seeing the more casual interactions between the provider and patient, where they would make jokes with each other or ask about their lives outside of the hospital. The interactions I had the chance to see are ones that will serve as a role model for me.

Lastly and probably the most personal, the interactions that I had the opportunity of making was an enormous eye opener into the lives of people who are different from myself and on the importance of human connection. I have always taken pride in being told that I am easy to talk to and very approachable because I believe that these qualities are very important to have in any career. However, getting to use these skills in the hospital allowed me to see them in a whole new light and to better understand just how important they are. I had the chance to speak to patients in some of their lowest moments, some even without visitors, who needed some positivity. There were several patients who commented on how they could not be more thankful for me choosing to spend my free time volunteering and how much it means to them. In these moments, I felt complete. They helped me realize that service and compassion can make such a large change in the world. These moments also showed me the amount that my actions can impact someone and how much I love to help and interact with people.

This change and my overall experience could not have been more affirming that entering the medical field is my ultimate goal. I learned so much about what it is like to work  in the hospital and got perspective on what lies on the path to get there. Observing both the doctors and nurses at work was a better way to learn about the field than had I studied it any class. Any first-hand experience will be beneficial as I apply to medical school and forming new connections with people already in the field will only be more helpful. This project also helped me to further my skills that will better prepare me for my future in terms of professionalism, communication, and responsibility.

My time spent volunteering was the most enjoyable part of my summer because I felt that I was using my STEP project to make a difference in my community. It made me feel good to know that I was making a change in someone else’s life and this is a lesson that will be carried with me through the rest of my life. If I can hold myself to a higher standard of going out of my way to help others, I believe that I will be living a higher quality of life. If everyone were to adopt these principles, the world could be a much different place. Living in Columbus which has blessed with amazing sites and a plethora of opportunities, I could not find a better way to show my gratitude than to give my time to the people that make it so special. Throughout the rest of my life, I will aim to be a helping hand to others, that way I can continue to show gratitude and believe that my time is making a difference.

Gracyn Noffert’s Step Project

  1. My step project was becoming a Community Engagement Leader. For this role, I lead groups of my peers in volunteer activities every month and provided a reflection for each of them to look back on the ways this project was personally transformative. I spent my time building reflection worksheets, creating sign-up sheets, talking with other leaders, organizing rides, facilitating discussion, and most importantly, volunteering with the community.

 

  1. Two of the places we spent extensive time in this summer were The Miracle Garden and Stowe Mission. The Miracle Garden is a community garden aimed to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the neighborhoods in a food desert. Stowe Mission provides many services including serving a hot meal every day, dental and medical services, and an after-school tutoring session. They also hold monthly block parties to engage the community, which is where we spent a lot of our time volunteering. Growing up, I hadn’t been exposed to the type of food insecurity that many of these families face in both places we volunteered. Volunteering here and helping to lead the trips and talk with the residents really opened my eyes to the need that many people around me face. I realized how blessed I am to lead the life I do, and how lucky I am that I never had to worry about food on the table. I saw the great need in this world, and I looked for ways to alleviate some of that need in my surrounding communities. I always assumed food insecurity was too big of a problem for me to tackle but seeing the work that was done in our team this summer made it seem a lot more manageable and I realized my work is making a real difference.

 

  1. Working in the Miracle Garden with the local residents showed me how much I have to be thankful for. The Miracle Garden deals with a lot of theft and damages as people are resistant to the help we are trying to bring. While there are some residents who love the garden and want to help plant things, other residents are quick to steal the plants we just planted or vandalize the property. This initially frustrated me as I saw how hard myself and others worked in an attempt to provide fresh foods to these people and I felt as though they were unappreciative for the work. However, when I took a step back, I realized that I have no idea why they are doing these things to the garden. Perhaps they are very poor and can’t afford to wait for the crops to be harvested or worry they won’t get their share in the future. Thinking of these other explanations for people’s behavior allowed me to have a view into their lives and hardships and be more empathetic towards them and thankful for what I do have.

Another one of the key aspects that lead to the changes I saw was the interactions I had with the residents whom I met while volunteering. The families that we worked with were living in poverty, many struggling to make ends meet for a while. However, these people were so generous and joyful, living with so much happiness and love despite the circumstances they had been given. This led me to reevaluate my own life and see how I can get upset by the smallest of things. I wanted to lead a life full of love and happiness irrelevant of the external situations in my life as these people I met were. These people were so thankful for the effort we put into the Miracle Garden as well and this made me see how even the smallest steps can make the world of difference to someone else.

Finally, one specific interaction I had with a young girl while volunteering at Stowe Mission really stuck out to me and help shape my entire experience. While drawing with chalk at the monthly block party, she told me that many people in her school bully her because she likes girls and not boys. She said this causes her a lot of anxiety and depression and she feels as though no one will accept her because of how she feels. I immediately told her that I accept her, and life is so much more than the middle school hallway bullies. I was able to talk with her a lot that night and show her that there are many people just like her in the world who are struggling to figure themselves out too. In the midst of it all, it’s okay to be lonely and scared, but you are always understood, loved, and needed by someone in this world. This interaction really stood out to me as I felt it helped me empathize with her and allowed me to use my psychology background to better understand her.

 

  1. The changes that I saw over the summer in myself are invaluable to my future. I will be attending medical school next year and hope to one day be a pediatrician. As a doctor, specifically a pediatrician, I will be dealing with many children who come from a family that lives in a food insecure area. I will be dealing with children who are depressed, anxious, and trying to figure out their sexuality. Having an open mind and knowing how to address these problems is key to becoming a great doctor. Additionally, this summer, I was able to refine my listening skills and empathy for others. I have personally witnessed while shadowing doctors how empathy and especially listening mean so much to the patients. They desire to be heard and understood by their doctor, so these skills will be essential to continue refining.

Transformation at The Painted Turtle

The Painted Turtle Camp is a refuge for children with serious illnesses. Worries are eased by meeting the individual medical and emotional needs of each camper, so that they can all “raise a little hell” and enjoy camp to the fullest. I was fortunate enough through STEP to spend a week this summer as a volunteer cabin councilor.

This experience showed me that everyone is fighting a battle of their own. I learned how strong and resilient people can be, especially children. Many of the young women in my cabin stepped out of their comfort zone just to come to camp; They had to leave their families and their normal medical staff, and put their trust in strangers to care for them. Beyond that even, this group of girls are at the age where peer validation seems to mean so much. They were brave and vulnerable and let each other see their true selves, even though there was a possibility of social rejection. My cabin grew immensely during the week, all while battling their medical issues and challenges in their home lives.

The relationships at The Painted Turtle had the greatest impact on me during the week. Since coming to Ohio State, I’ve realized that one of my favorite ways to challenge myself is to try something new where I don’t know anyone else. I seem to grow the most in these situations because there is no safety net. This experience at TPT was one of these challenges time 10: I didn’t know anyone, I was across the country from my friends and family, and I really had no clue what I was getting myself into. I think these situations open me up to the full understanding and beauty of interpersonal relationships because it gives me the opportunity to start from scratch and watch the relationship build in real-time. The first few relationships I built during this week started in baggage claim at LAX. I was waiting to be picked up and transported to the campgrounds, alone, in one of the largest airports in the country. I was nervous I was in the wrong location and that I wasn’t going to make it to where I needed to be. After what seemed like 30 minutes (but was honestly closer to 3), I saw another woman with a Delta Zeta t-shirt on. Delta Zeta’s national service project is The Painted Turtle, so I knew I found a fellow volunteer. We continued to wait together and gradually picked other TPT volunteers out of the crowd. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t spend much time with this initial group of volunteers, but whenever I was them on the campgrounds I knew I had someone close by that I could count on.

As camp officially started, the relationships continued to multiply. My fellow cabin councilors were some of the most down-to-earth, selfless and welcoming people I have ever met. One of my co-councilors in particular had the most comforting presence. At times I would get overwhelmed because most volunteers had worked at TPT before and knew exactly what to do. I, on the other hand, was completely clueless. I didn’t know what to expect most of the time, and for me that is one of my biggest stressors. I was put into a leadership role when I felt like I was the one who needed guidance. This co-councilor of mine had been there all summer, and it was obvious she felt completely comfortable in her role, yet she always made everyone feel like her equal. She always respected our thoughts and made sure that our opinions were recognized by the group. The most amazing part, though, was that her actions were completely natural. I don’t think she even recognized the impact she had, it was second nature. Her leadership style was incredible influential to me when it came to my interactions with our campers.

The relationships i built with the campers definitely had the biggest impact on me. As I mentioned before, TPT placed me in a leadership role I didn’t quite feel qualified for. I think this effected me most when surrounded by other volunteers because it was obvious they felt more comfortable than I was is the same role. When the campers showed up, I felt much more natural in my role. I was initially shocked, however, to find out most campers were returners. I thought to myself, “How am I supposed to be their leader when they know more about camp than I do?” I quickly realized, though, that my role wasn’t focused on being in charge and directing these young women, but to be a good role model: to be reliable, show them they are free to be themselves, make them feel comfortable, and most important help them connect with one another. During the week, being in the position of councilor and observing the campers, I started to realize just how much these girls had on their plates. Most of them were started new schools the week after camp ended, some of them had challenges in their home lives, and they all had the knowledge of their illness constantly weighing on them. Putting the cherry on top, they all were making such strong bonds with each other and knew that they were going to be separated in just a few days. None of this, however, kept them from trying new experiences (i.e. the high ropes course) or from enjoying the time they did have together. Not a moment of camp was wasted. Their bravery will impact me forever. I could feel the strength of their bond from outside…or at least I thought I was outside looking in.

On the last night, I had ‘Night Duty’ and had to sleep in the campers’ room. I walked in to see they were all still up, past their bedtime, whispering and huddled around a single flashlight. I didn’t want to disturb the as I knew it was their last few hours together, so I quietly climbed into my bed. As soon as I laid down, ready to fall asleep, I heard a very quiet and airy “Jeanette.” Confused, I sat up to see the girls holding up their hands in the shape of a heart. “We love you,” they whisper-yelled. That is a moment I never want to forget. All of camp I wasn’t sure how much of an impact I truly had on these girls lives, and I’m still not completely sure, but one thing I do know is that they all left their heart-shaped hand prints all over my heart forever.

This experience was significant and valuable in so many ways. Ways I recognized immediately, and ways I’m discovering with each passing day. One way I recognized right away was my growth as a leader. During this experience, I occasionally felt like I wasn’t doing my job because I wasn’t interacting with the campers non-stop. I brought this up to some of the other councilors and they shared similar feelings. This is when I knew that sometimes being a leader is more about guiding others to create their own experiences and learn by action than it is about making sure they always follow the ‘right path’. The biggest lesson I learned, though, is that that everyone I meet has a lesson to teach me. I learned how to be brave through vulnerability from the campers, how to be silly from the entertainment team, how to appreciate the environment around me from Randy, how to be creative and spontaneous from Kylie, and how to trust my gut from myself. I know this experience will shape who I am in my everyday life: personal, academic and professional. Currently, as I make decisions about what program to pursue in graduate school, I keep this experience in mind. It was incredible challenging, but even more rewarding. So, how can I keep on this path and create more transformational experiences in the upcoming years?

BuckIServ Service Learning – The Akumanyi Foundation

1

My STEP signature project was service learning experience available through BuckIServ in collaboration with The Akumanyi Foundation (TAF) taking place primarily in Akokwa, Ghana. We were primarily tasked with assisting the kids and staff of the orphanage / school (Engyankwa Wo Enyiadad Children’s Home) with their day to day chores. When the kids were not in school we spent a lot of time playing with them and getting to know them. When we were not doing this we were taking care of our own living space or visiting different historically significant sites around the Central Region of Ghana with TAF staff.

2

I believe I developed a more refined picture of how I viewed American culture in relation to other cultures, and my place in the world. Although it may seem cliché, I think my former understanding of other people around me, and therefore myself, was too ethnocentric. The culture of the USA is so vastly different from Ghanaian culture, and American culture is the dominant form of normative authority in my life. One major difference is that American culture is extremely individualistic and Ghana is deeply collectivist. This made me think about the forms of social support that I have been privileged to have in my life and how different that same form of social support looks in the Ghanaian context. What I feel like has changed the most from this is the idea of what fulfills the role of family as a form of social support in the stereotypically American sense.

3

I would say there are definitely three main sources that put all of the experiences I had on this trip into context. The first group were the kids in the orphanage / school. The kids of the orphanage were the group of people we intended on going to Akokwa to serve in the first place. WE spent a lot of time with them playing games, but also we got to know a bit about how they treated each other and what they wanted for themselves. Especially from the older kids who were thinking about what their future would be like. One of the advisors that were on the trip with me brought up the point that kids in the orphanage thought of each other and the staff at the orphanage as their family. I hadn’t given that idea much thought before, and once that idea settled in my mind I started to change my own opinion on what a family looks like.

 

The second group is definitely the TAF staff. The staff was made up of three people who I feel privileged to call my friends now. They are native to the Central Region of Ghana, and they have had a lot of experience with student groups like ours before. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to them a lot about their lives, what it was like to grow up in their communities, and what their family life was like. I also learned a great deal about how their family shapes the way they develop a sense of respect for themselves, members of their family, and others in their community. Also, whenever we went to a different place in the central region to learn about other projects TAF was a part of, or to learn some history about Ghana they were always there to offer their point of view on historical events which was completely different sometimes from what I thought I already knew.

 

The third group of people were my fellow OSU students and advisors. All of us were experiencing the same environment, but each of us had a unique way of interpreting that experience. We had multiple reflection talks about the things we were doing on a day to day basis that helped me notice things I wouldn’t have been able to wrap my mind around by myself. Everyone brought their own voice to the table and that dialogue helped reshape the way I was thinking about the experiences we all shared. I was also lucky to get to know many of them, and hear how their own backgrounds worked to inform the way they perceived the different experiences we had.

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There is no shortage of valuable experiences I have gained from this opportunity. Firstly, I had the unique opportunity to spend time with other like-minded Ohio State students who have a passion for service, and I would likely not have had the chance to meet them otherwise. I have built strong friendships with the people I met, and hopefully these relationships last. This was the first time in my life that I travelled internationally without someone I already knew very well, in turn being the furthest outside my comfort zone I have ever been since going from high-school to college. I learned how to become comfortable in an unfamiliar environment, and how to build strong and productive relationships quickly. I also learned how to build relationships with people whose entire lives have been shaped by a completely different culture. All of these are invaluable skills that also have direct applications to my intended career path in the medical field. As a medical professional the ability to develop genuine and trusting relationships with colleagues and patients who may come from any type of background is a necessary skill to be able to do the job well. This is also something that can’t really be learned in a classroom, but also doesn’t necessarily need to be learned through a service learning trip like this. However, having this opportunity accelerated my growth on that front to a significant degree, and I will forever be grateful for it.

 

STEP Signature Project- SCAMP

  1. Over the summer I worked at a camp with individuals who had special needs. Each individual was a member of the community and through the camp, we worked on skills and fun activities that helped them to open up and work on their personal skills. I learned a great amount from each individual and it helped open my eyes to the importance of the work that I was doing.
  2. When I began my STEP project, I had a broad understanding of the struggles and difficulties that came with being a parent, sibling, or babysitter of an individual with special needs. I also only understood some of the problems that could occur for an individual with special needs. During my time working over the summer, my views were dramatically shifted. In my classroom, we had 7 kids ages 9-13. We had our kids from 9:30 am – 2:30 pm. During this time, we were responsible for providing them with the proper care and attention for them to flourish. This ranged from feeding them, changing them, and playing with them. I never fully understood the toll that it could take on a person to have this full responsibility every day. I think that the families of these individuals are saints and deserve unlimited amounts of praise. I also start to understand the simple daily challenges that they may go through. Going out to eat, playing at the park, and swimming can all be extremely difficult. My heart was changed by my experience and it made me realize how blind I was to the hardships around me. After my experience, I started to realize how many people around me are impacted by the challenges of taking care of a loved one with special needs. I am now more understanding of what can be going on in the background when people seem like they’re having a bad day or if their actions come off as rude.
  3. One of my experiences is in regard to the older adults that were apart of our camp. These individuals were between the ages of 20-30. One special program that our director offers is nights out at restaurants. The purpose of these outings is to teach our students how to properly address others when out to eat, how to order for themselves, and how to pay the bill. To someone from the outside, these may all seem like a simple task, but these can be quite difficult for a person with special needs. After attending just a few nights out, you could see the transformation and confidence build within these individuals. This changed my perspective of things that I take for granted.

Another experience that changed my point of view was when we took our kids to the 4H county fair. The day that we attended the fair it was 95 degrees out and there was no cloud coverage. As the day went on everyone was becoming miserable, hot, and thirsty. During this time our kids began to act out. At first many of the counselors were becoming frustrated after having kids who were running off, hitting, crying, and yelling. But this was all put into perspective by one of my fellow counselors. She said, “I know this can seem like a lot right now, but our kids struggle to express how they are truly feeling. If we are patient, we will be able to calm them down and find out what they need.” This opened my eyes because I started to realize that there was a pattern that our kids were following. Typically, when someone is hot or tired, they just express that, but for individuals with special needs that can be extremely hard to get across so instead, they throw a tantrum. This influenced how I approach situations and made me realize that often we need to read between the lines and understand actions before acting.

My final experience that influenced me greatly was during the final week of camp. One of our girls was starting to act out and not listen. She would get easily flustered and throw her glasses across the room. Over the course of the two months of camp she had always been very quiet and very respectful. So, when this started to happen, we all were confused and didn’t know what to do. We tried many different approaches, but something seemed to be going on that we couldn’t figure out. Finally, we talked to her brother and he revealed that because it was the last week of camp, she knew that she wasn’t going to see us every day and she wouldn’t get to see all of her friends, so she was upset. This made me stop and think because I was so quick to jump to conclusions about what was happening. It made me realize how much assuming can hurt the people around you. It changed my perspective and the way that I am going to act towards others in the future.

  1. My personal goal is to go to law school. In law school, I really want to study criminal law but spend time doing work with people who have disabilities. This summer really opened my eyes to how much these families and individuals have on their plates. So, when it comes to the law, these groups of people often get dismissed or left behind. I learned how important it can be to have someone who can advocate for you because they understand you. This STEP project transformed the way that I will approach others in the future. It also made me realize how important it is for me to be a supporter and activist in their community. I will not take opportunities that I am given for granted and I want to make the most out of my ability to give back to others.

Igniting Unique Minds at Bridgeway Academy

My STEP Project allowed me to live in Columbus over the summer to volunteer and shadow weekly with Bridgeway Academy, a school for children with autism. I was able to connect with four different speech pathologists, and help them laminate, cut, and prepare materials for the upcoming school year. In addition, I was able to observe and participate in their therapy sessions and help use therapy activities to target specific goals for the children.

Going into the summer, I was convinced I wanted to work in a medical placement as a future speech-language pathologist (SLP). I loved the fast-paced, constantly changing atmosphere, where you saw new patients every day. This summer, I wanted to try to challenge my assumptions and see if I could envision myself working in a different setting. Bridgeway Academy is a school for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. As a volunteer and observer in the secondary school, I was given the opportunity to interact with fourth through twelfth grade students in a variety of ways, creating deeper relationships and having continual interactions with them throughout the summer to help them achieve their communication goals. After this summer, I could definitely see myself working in a school setting with children, especially those with disabilities. Before this experience, I was convinced that I would only thrive in a hospital environment, but after this summer, I realized that I also do well collaborating with educational professionals to create tailored goals for each patient and help them achieve these goals through play-based therapy.

  I split my time evenly at Bridgeway Academy between volunteering and observing. While volunteering, I mainly helped the speech-language pathologists (SLPs) compile new therapy materials, sort them based on therapy goal, then laminate and cut them. When I arrived in the morning, this is usually what I would start out doing, and it was nice to be able to connect with the SLPs and talk about what kids were on their caseload and how each resource would help them. It was so neat to see therapy materials that I helped put together be used in real sessions. For example, one thing students with autism really struggle with is following directions and sorting things into groups. This skill is really important for them as they eventually go out to work in a vocational setting, where they will be asked to listen to an authoritative figure and likely have to sequence or separate various things. One material I helped work on was a table that was split into two sections with two different groups, for example, fruits and vegetables. First, I would laminate the entire page, then I would cut out little squares that each had pictures on them of either fruits or vegetables. Lastly, I put Velcro dots on the table itself and the small squares, so the kids could look at the pictures then decide which category it belonged to. It was so awesome to be able to see something I worked on actually be used in real therapy sessions, teaching kids how to follow directions such as “First stick on the red vegetables, then the orange fruits, and then the rest of the vegetables.” This is a valuable skill, especially because many kids will go on to work in a grocery store or some kind of market.

This activity stood out in particular to me because it made me feel like I was making a real difference. It was easy to see how from the day I started laminating these numerous cards, to the day they were actually used in therapy, to when kids could use these skills as baggers at the grocery, I was able to impact the children’s lives in a real and tangible way. Previously, I thought that working in a hospital would give me the most immediate gratification; I would see a stroke patient, prescribe them a diet that would help them not aspirate, and be on my way. In the school, however, there were more steps involved but it was neat to see how building the resource from start to finish and then helping kids understand how to use it in the real world was a worthwhile process. I really liked feeling like I was making a difference, even if sometimes it just involved cutting and sorting papers.

When I was not volunteering and helping create therapy materials, I shadowed four different speech-language pathologists and would rotate between them. They really valued me as a student and would talk amongst each other about who they had on their caseload that day and what activities they would be doing to ensure I got to see something new each time and participate in all that the field of speech-language pathology has to offer. I got to see a lot of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) use, which is something I was fairly unfamiliar with previously. Roughly 70% of students at Bridgeway used some kind of device or communication board to communicate, and it was the primary job of the SLP to know how to use these devices and train students on how to use them. I got used to using iPads and certain software to connect with students which was very new to me, but an important skill to have as our technology continues to grow. In addition, I sat in on individual therapy sessions, where we often played board games to target certain goals. I loved seeing how creative the school SLP has to be and what goals can be targeted simply by playing Candyland. Lastly, and probably my most favorite, was when we did co-treatments with either occupational therapy or music therapy. Most students at Bridgeway receive multiple therapies, so when we are able to combine and target multiple goals at once, this makes it more engaging for students and more efficient for therapists. I specifically loved when we would co-treat with music therapy; the students loved it and it was a neat way to target communication goals, such as maintaining eye contact, taking turns, and making appropriate choices.

Throughout the summer, I was able to build connections with the therapists and ask them countless questions about their experiences in graduate school, finding jobs, and what it is like to work in a school setting. They were brutally honest with me about the good and bad days that working in a school can bring, but ultimately, they all say they love their experience and getting to watch students grow. Many of them have worked for the school for multiple years and have developed relationships with the kids’ families and are able to see them grow up and go beyond Bridgeway when they graduate. Being able to see this continual growth is not something I would get in a medical setting, where I usually would interact with a patient three or four times at most, then never see them again. It really made me think about what I value most as a therapist and challenge my previous notions.

As I begin applying to graduate schools, they often ask about what your professional goals are and what you hope to bring to their program. Before this summer, I thought I wanted to strictly work in hospitals, and was looking exclusively at programs that focused on medical speech-language pathology. Following my STEP project, I feel like I have become much more open-minded and have begun exploring programs that offer a more well-rounded education for graduate school. By better understanding what it is like to work in a school setting, specifically with children who have special needs, I am able to see another side of speech-language pathology and use this to help form what my professional goals are and how I will contribute to whatever school I end up attending. In all aspects of my life, this experience has helped me become more open-minded and not judge a book by its cover. From now on, I will be less likely to rule out an experience based on prior assumptions, and more easily persuaded to give it a go, because you never know until you try.

Creating Magic at The Painted Turtle

For my STEP Signiture Project, I worked as a cabin counselor for three months at a free-of-charge overnight summer camp for kids with life-threatening medical conditions in Lake Hughes, CA called The Painted Turtle. My role was to foster an environment of possibility and belonging for children who have a diagnosis. I collaborated with the medical team to provide routine daily care, and facilitated activities that were challenging yet medically and developmentally appropriate for a diverse group of children.

I can confidently say that working at The Painted Turtle has made me a more empathetic and thoughtful person and a much better nurse. My assumptions on what a medically fragile child can accomplish were completely transformed. I learned through advocating and supporting children with a diagnosis all summer, that children are exceptionally resilient, brave, and intelligent. This whole experience reminded me that even if someone has a life-threatening medical diagnosis, doesn’t mean they have to be deprived of opportunities that summer camp can provide like belonging, adventure, community, and lasting friendship. This summer, I learned how to adapt: adapt a 40 high ropes course and zip line to accommodate children in wheelchairs, adapt to collaborate with a new team each week, and adapt my perceptions of what exceptionally bright children can offer the world.

This summer, I lived in a world where the lofty values of belonging, inclusivity, unconditional love and support were upheld in actuality. In turn, I had the opportunity to support deep friendships among children who, because of their diagnosis, often feel utterly alone in “the real world.” The first time I felt this sense of true belonging through my campers was the very first week of camp. Session One of camp was for children who have dwarfism. Many of these kids have spent their whole lives being stared and being thought of as different. At The Painted Turtle, every kid looks like them, and because these kids share this fundamental common ground, they now have place to shine and a place to call their home. New campers come shy and reserved on arrival day. By stage night they are belting their favorite song over a mic in front of 100 of their new friends and counselors. This is part of the Magic of the Painted Turtle: the place creates a space where all are welcome and kids are the center.

I had the unique opportunity to not only work with kids with a diagnosis, but also alongside counselors who have a medical diagnosis as well. Many of my closest friends from camp were previous campers themselves. The Painted Turtle is special not just because it creates an inclusive environment for campers, but also because it gives adults who have a medical diagnosis a place to empower youth and use their skills to bring a little magic to the world. One example is a good friend of mine who has a type of skeletal dysplasia that limits his mobility to a specially designed power wheelchair. You can catch this friend of mine capturing magic moments all around camp as our camp photographer. My idea of inclusivity has been profoundly and positively altered thanks to The Painted Turtle.

Adaptability and creativity are key features of a cabin counselor at The Painted Turtle. We make the previously impossible, possible for our kids at camp. Kids who are completely wheelchair bound can fly up a 40ft high ropes course and zip-line down. Kids who have never swum in a pool because of accessibility or infection risk, can splash and float with their friends. Kids who have never self-infused their own IV medication, can become one step closer to being independent in their medical care. Kids who have never spent a night away from their parents because of their intense medical situation can grow in independence and self-reliance surrounded by their peers at camp. In order for all this magic to happen, my fellow teammates and I had to get creative by collaborating with parents, doctors, nurses, and child life specialists. We altered routine, got messy, took initiative, and worked with these special kids to create a place where anything is possible.

My passion for pediatric nursing has been reinvigorated and deeply grounded thanks to The Painted Turtle. I will take the lessons of inclusivity, optimism, and empathetic listening with me as I finish my last year of nursing school at OSU. This summer at camp has made me a better nurse and a better person. I have gained skills in collaborating with an entire medical team to achieve a brilliant goal. I feel right at home advocating and working with kids who live with life-threatening medical conditions. I know that I can bring this boundless love and magic to the children and families I will serve in my future career.