“Ever since she was in high school, Atasha Sharp planned to be a doctor. And if it were not for organic chemistry, she would be. Luckily for her patients, a college professor sat her down for a frank and life-changing discussion.
“I hated organic chemistry, and I wasn’t very good at it,” Atasha said. “My professor suggested I think about what I was good at and focus on that. Well, I went back to my dorm room, and I thought long and hard. I asked myself, ‘what am I good at? What do I like to do?’ I realized that I really loved – and did well in – my social sciences classes. I started researching professions and came across social work. I took an introductory class, and I was sure that I had found my calling.”
Atasha has never looked back. She was accepted to and graduated from the social work bachelor’s program at Rhode Island College and went on to receive her master’s in social work at Simmons College. In the more than 10 years since she finished school, she has been working as a licensed clinical social worker and still feels fulfilled and happy in her work each day. Atasha received a National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment award. She has been at her current site, Gateway Healthcare, for the past five years.
The community Gateway Healthcare serves is urban and very low income, so the patients typically do not have insurance. Most of the clients Atasha works with are dually diagnosed, meaning they have both mental health and substance abuse issues, and a good number come into treatment with existing legal issues that need to be resolved. “Many of my patients come in with a big chip on their shoulders,” she said. “They don’t want to come see me, but the court has mandated treatment. It takes time to build trust with them, and actions definitely speak louder than words. I need to show them that I am on their side and that I am not judging them.”
It is that approach that gets Atasha results with her patients. She explains, “I had a client who had been charged with a DUI [driving under the influence]. I could tell she was embarrassed, angry, and felt as though treatment was beneath her. She was well-respected in the community, and she came in very defensive. She would say, ‘How long is this going to last? This is ridiculous!’ I just told her I understood she was only here because she was told she needed to be – and I wouldn’t want to go somewhere just because I was told to either. In the second session, she thanked me for not responding to her attitude. And we went from there! I always focused on how she was doing as a person and what was going on in her life – not what she had done. I noticed each week that her attitude was softer; she laughed and smiled more and began to share personal information. By the time she was done, she said to me, ‘At first I wasn’t happy to be here, and I had a bad attitude. You didn’t judge, and I appreciate that. You helped me.’”
Atasha is grateful for the opportunity to help her patients, and she views the NHSC loan repayment as the factor that enables her to make her passion for service a career. “The loan repayment frees me up to work in a community where typically you’re not making millions of dollars, but you’re doing amazing work. A lot of providers shy away from this population, because it can be difficult. But I enjoy being challenged, and I feel as though I have really grown as an individual and a professional. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”