AmeriCorps and Its Impact on My Cultural Competence
Today’s guest blog is re-posted from the National Health Corps (NHC) Philadelphia blog and is part of AmeriCorps Alums’ REALTalk series on race, equity, and AmeriCorps alumni as leaders. It was originally published on March 7, 2016, and is written by NHC Philadelphia AmeriCorps VISTA member Kaila Druetto who serves as a Health & Benefits Advocate at the Family Practice & Counseling Network – The Health Annex.
Prior to my service with AmeriCorps I’m embarrassed to say when I thought about culture, my mind automatically went to an elementary idea of rituals, traditions, religion, dances, music, attire, and social norms. I thought of all of this simply in terms of countries and their differences.
I was lucky enough to go to a liberal arts university during my undergraduate experience that stressed the importance of and taught me to value diversity and cultural competence. Coming from a town in rural Pennsylvania with essentially no diversity, this held great significance for me. Throughout my psychology courses in counseling techniques we spent a great deal of time learning about cultural practices and related norms that we may encounter when providing therapy.
Even though cultural competency was stressed during my college experience, I didn’t always think about culture the way that I should. My time these past two years with AmeriCorps serving as a PACC VISTA in Reading, PA and with NHC-Philadelphia here at the Health Annex has made me realize that. My time spent with the prenatal patients this year has absolutely reformed my perception of culture. Although I’ve spent a great deal of time on civic engagement and helping those in need throughout my life, I never quite associated the challenges a population faces as being part of their culture. In Philadelphia, differences in culture are everywhere and can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood or even between households.
Here at the Health Annex, many of our prenatal patients lead lives plagued by periods of instability and hardship. Numerous patients experience housing insecurity, food insecurity, and many live with a multitude of physical and mental health conditions. The Health Annex population experiences the city’s highest risk for infant mortality, low birth weight, high school dropout, HIV, single parent households, homicide, and the list goes on. None of these hardships are considered to be rituals or a part of a religion but they absolutely play a role in each individual’s culture. Having an understanding of these challenges is necessary in being culturally competent and in providing the best care possible.
One of my roles at the Health Annex is to assist the prenatal patients in overcoming some of the barriers presented to them by the environment they are living in. I believe these barriers are inherent to their culture. The most important thing I do for these patients is be a constant means of support for them. I greet them with a smile when they show up for their appointment, I share in their excitement when they find out the gender of their unborn child and I feel their frustrations when being denied for medical assistance knowing they have to navigate the system all over again. I believe that my support of these patients by calling to ensure missed appointments are rescheduled, and following up on pending Medicaid applications results in better prenatal care. This results in better health of the mother and in the end, results in better health of the child. Most importantly, I do all of those things with a smile and with kindness. You never know how much of an impact showing compassion and giving a smile will have.
My experience serving with AmeriCorps has been absolutely invaluable. My commitment to service over the past two years has only solidified my dedication to civic engagement for the rest of my life. Someday I hope this comes in the form of being a physician, but until then I will continue to take the skills I have learned and my bigger picture ideals of cultural competence and carry it with me in all of my interactions.