The Perkins Perspective | Features | Winter 2014
A Student Considers Health Care Distribution
By Madeline Haugen
I can still recall the gripping fear I felt before an eye surgery when I was a child. I remember the cold bench I sat on, the pretty nurses with colorful scrubs, and the sugar-free lollipop they gave me for being good. Awaiting my surgery was an intense time in my life, yet the soothing words and jokes of the nurses were enough to keep some of my anxiety at bay.
As a child, I was diagnosed with strabismus, a condition in which the eyes look in different directions. Throughout my life, I’ve always had access to trusted, competent doctors and nurses. Not only did they take care of me, but they also taught me about my eyes and brain ― and I grew to appreciate science and the human body from a young age.
At every stage of my growth, I had positive experiences in the world of health care. Later, though, I learned other people have a much different experience.
An Eye-Opening Trip
In high school, I served on a short-term mission trip to the rural Mexican town of Nuevo Leon. For a week, our group served the town’s women and children through the community church. And while the trip was one of the most rewarding, exhausting weeks of my life, it also opened my eyes to a community living in conditions foreign to my comfortable life.
Most of our service was providing education in personal care and first aid, along with giving families with basic medical supplies. During one of my first days on duty, I met Clarissa. At 18 years old, she had a happy 1-year-old infant and had had taken on the responsibility of caring for her 4-year-old sister. I was only 15.
Our lives were drastically different in almost every aspect, yet we overcame the language barrier to talk about her life, how she was managing, and the basics of first aid.
My experience in Nuevo Leon led to an important epiphany: I’d grown up in a place where I received regular medical treatment ― from surgery to band-aids. But few of my new friends in Nuevo Leon had ever seen a doctor or been in a medical clinic. That week I realized I needed to make a difference; I decided to pursue a career in medicine.
With this career goal in mind, I found myself a freshman at Seattle Pacific University, where I attended a seminar called “Pathologies of Power: Medicine, Power, and Justice.” As part of the class, we were assigned to visit the Pacific Medical Center, a small clinic dedicated to serving low-income and homeless patients in downtown Seattle.
Standing outside of a little brick building not far from the Pike Place Market, I felt the same nervousness I had prior to my eye surgery. I had visited the famous nearby market many times, but in front of the clinic the usual pleasant smells of produce and baked goods were replaced with the musty smell of an alley. This part of Pike Place was invisible to me — close, but drastically different from my picture of touristy downtown Seattle.
I entered the clinic with a group of students, and from the moment that Donna, the receptionist, began to speak with us, our anxiety lessened.
Donna made it clear that her concern about community had drawn her to the PMC and kept her engaged in the work. As she explained the values of the clinic, it also became apparent that the staff was interested in promoting social justice, and was taking important steps to bring about a just distribution of health care to indigent and low-income persons in downtown Seattle. The PMC’s policy ensures that every person receives medical care, regardless of ability to pay. The clinic serves the uninsured by incorporating sliding discounts, and even has staff on hand to help patients find the insurance that fits them best.
Donna and the other staff members involved in patient care at the PMC adhere to a culturally sensitive policy that seeks to mitigate social misrecognition by “treating our patients and fellow staff members with the utmost respect and dignity.” The staff attend to differences in culture and language, and know their regular patients by name.
Our visit to PMC helped dispel my naïve misconception that faith, health, and justice reside in different domains. Even after going abroad, I never quite understood the plight of those without access to health care until I experienced the PMC’s attempts to provide treatment and address social injustice. My respect for physicians and nurses increased, and now I see how a profession in medicine can do more than address health needs.
As I continue my education at SPU, I hope to one day be a part of that effort. These formative experiences will continue to help me recognize ways that I serve the underserved and help more people experience holistic care and justice.
Madeline Haugen is a freshman at Seattle Pacific University who plans to major in nursing. A native of Mill Creek, Washington, Maddie spends her free time cooking, skiing, and attending concerts.
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