I’ve felt a passion for health care for as long as I can remember. Growing up just outside Boston, my mom worked as a nurse, and my step dad as a pediatrician. I was fascinated by their ability to use medicine and counseling to help improve people’s lives.
As a college student at NYU, I explored other interests – acting, journalism, and law – but felt I was missing something. After some soul searching, I decided to give a career in health care a shot.
Through an intensive program at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute of Health Professions, I earned my Masters of Science in Nursing. It was during my first year of the program that my professor, Dr. Karen Wolfe, an NHSC Ambassador, told my class about the Student/Resident Experiences and Rotations in Community Health (SEARCH) program. The chance to live and serve in a new area where health professionals were desperately needed was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
In the summer of 2007, at the start of my SEARCH rotation at the Community Health of East Tennessee (CHET) clinic in the rural mining community of La Follette, my mind was set on pursuing a career in pediatrics. But just three days into the rotation, my mind was changed. I was seeing entire families – from infants to grandparents – and felt the potential for building strong relationships with patients of all ages. I found the work challenging and more rewarding than anything else I had done. CHET is one of the few clinics in East Tennessee that won’t turn anyone away, treating those who are uninsured or on Medicaid. Many of the adult patients – many of whom worked years in mines – had not seen a health care provider since their childhood. I saw first-hand the desperation for quality health care in pockets of our country. I knew then that providing primary care in a vulnerable area was the path for me.
Because of the incredible experience I had through Tennessee’s SEARCH program, I returned to CHET in 2008 for a clinical rotation. From developing community outreach programs promoting nutrition and smoking cessation to providing one-on-one counseling for managing diabetes, I realized that I had the ability to help improve people’s lives, just as my parents did. My work was making a difference.
A year later in 2009, I was thrilled to be hired by CHET full-time and also awarded National Health Service Corps loan repayment. Though my NHSC service commitment is up in about a year, I’m renewing my contract and staying in La Follette indefinitely. I’ve established my life and career here, and I love it.
I took a calculated risk coming to East Tennessee, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. La Follette is a far cry from my roots in Boston and New York City, but it’s home just the same.