Volunteer Name: Olivia Nguyen
Alma Mater: St. Joseph’s University
Placement Site: Pastoral Care Department, Richmond Community Hospital
Describe an influential experience that led you to a year of service.
Throughout my years at Saint Joseph’s University, I was actively involved with the Health Promoter Programs organized by the Institute of Clinical Bioethics. We served both the documented and undocumented Hispanic, African, Vietnamese, and Indonesian communities in the Philadelphia area by providing preventative health screenings. We collaborated with an interdisciplinary team of residents, medical and dental students, undergraduate students, and other organizations in order to provide a more holistic approach to care.
One time as a Health Promoter, I encountered a woman who seemed very hesitant and anxious as she walked through the doors. As I started conversing with her, I realized that she did not understand English very well and so I attempted to speak in her language. She began to feel at ease once she realized that there was someone who could hear her and understand her. She knew she was in a safe place. I remained with her as she walked through the medical, optical, and dental stations. While she was waiting to be seen, I learned that she had recently come to Philadelphia only a few months ago, and she was working in construction services to earn money to bring her family over to the United States. She told me that she had grandchildren whom she missed dearly and wanted them to come over soon, and she recounted more details of her experience living in the United States. By the end of her session, we looked at each other through teary-eyes and hugged each other in a loving embrace.
This experience and this program truly warmed my heart as I learned more of each person’s story. There were life-giving moments in witnessing first hand the compassion between the promoters and patients. By empowering them and providing them the means to perform daily tasks I had taken for granted, it brought me great joy as I saw their smiles and relief. Hearing their stories and seeing each person for who they are and where they are was an honor. I think this was one of the most endearing experiences I have had, which led me to do a year of service after college.
What is your favorite song or book and why does it speak to you?
My favorite book is Kitchen Table Wisdom by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. because she takes a holistic approach to healthcare and recounts the pearls of wisdom that she uncovered during her residency training. In one particular vignette entitled, “Back to the Basics,” she describes a predicament where she and her fellow residents were at a loss because their patient was actively declining and they were worried about being unable to provide adequate care for her. Despite their sense of helplessness, a resident walked to the patient’s bedside and fluffed her pillow, changed the sheets, tucked her in with a blanket, and made sure that at the very least, the patient was comfortable. These simple gestures resonated with me because they embodied the importance of presence. While you may not know the answers in life, sometimes it is the little things that can make all the difference. This story and many others Dr. Remen describes in the book affirms the idea that the whole essence of medicine is to care, even if it cannot cure.