We asked current students from the JHU Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health to reflect on what SOURCE means to them as health professional students and how engaging in Baltimore City has had an impact ontheir education. On this page you’ll find meaningful stories of engagement from the following students:
Finding Connections through Community Engagement
By Ekene Obi-Okoye, Med Student, Class of 2017
School of Medicine
SOURCE Service Scholar, CASE (Community Adolescent Sex Education)
Ekene (far right) works with students from CASE
15-year-old Latina, 30 weeks pregnant.
Her face carries a meek expression,
But her eyes reveal a quiet intensity,
Attentive, searching, evaluating,
She answers our questions evenly,
Lies on her back calmly,
Allows us to assess as we see fit,
We speak in the foreign Latin of medicine,
Pausing to translate occasionally,
Asking if she’s thought of her birth control method.
As we leave, I hear her exhale quietly,
Tension in her throat relaxing.
In the pod, we discuss her,
No, not her,
How these things happens,
How these things can be stopped,
She, a victim or a perpetrator,
Her belly evidence of her poor decisions,
Her cultural upbringing,
Their, her community that is, ignorance.
We write her story for her,
Having no time to spend time hearing it from her mouth.
After all, her story wouldn’t change our care,
Her story doesn’t produce different reimbursements.
15-year-old Latino, 30 weeks pregnant,
In no acute distress and cooperative on exam.
Let’s move on to Room 6.
As a medical student, I sometimes feel that it can be quite difficult to truly connect with the people we, as health professionals, are called to serve. We are limited by time, the number of available staff, and the unofficial guidelines shaped by reimbursement structures. We diagnose and we treat; yet at times, we fall short of being the supports that people need when they are faced with the behemoth that is healthcare.
This is where the power of service shines, the strength of community engagement. Service forces me to remember that those who walk through hospital doors are people first, patients second. When I am working as a SOURCE Service Scholar with Community Adolescent Sex Education, a grad-student-run 8-week sex education program provided to Baltimore City public schools, I am forced to listen to the voices – from the middle school students and their schoolteachers to the grad students who teach in the program. I hear them telling their own stories about sexuality and the decisions they choose to make with their own bodies. I hear how they navigate tough interpersonal relationships, how they struggle with feeling empowered, and how their own communities impact the ways they think about themselves.
In response, I work with my co-director to continually develop and implement a curriculum that provides a safe space for the program participants to share freely, reflect on their own choices, and feel empowered to make and follow through on goals for the future. Partnering with SOURCE to develop skills around reflective and on-going service dedicated to social change, we and our volunteers strive to create a safe space for active learning. In doing so, we build faith in the idea that people have the power to change their own lives and that our role is provide the resources to help them do that.
I carry the same idea to clinic now. I listen with a more empathetic heart and an ear open to finding assets and places of strength that go beyond the stereotype as I have been taught through my SOURCE mentors. I strive to partner with patients to achieve their own goals, not those that I place upon them. I strive to serve them.
We’re led to believe that Hopkins is Baltimore’s shining light on the hill, and in many ways that’s correct. In a city that is struggling Johns Hopkins brings the sharpest minds in the world together and sets them to work in East Baltimore. Hopkins is the shining light of Baltimore, but too often that light dims somewhere around Washington Street.
In its short history SOURCE has done more to bridge that gap than any organization that has come before it and that is why I am proud to be a part of it. I didn’t leave my life behind to move to Hopkins, I left it to move to Baltimore, and through SOURCE I have become a part of the community where I lay my head.
Community engagement is at the heart of what we are doing here, as a future Baltimore nurse it would be very difficult to address the health needs of the community if I have no frame of reference and no exposure to my patients outside of the hospital setting. In my brief six months living in Charm City SOURCE has helped myself and my fellow students organize river clean ups, tree plantings, fundraisers, and holiday donation drives; all events putting the brains and muscle of Johns Hopkins students working toward the betterment of the neighborhood we call home.
I’m not sure how this experience or the many that came before it will shape my health care career but I can tell you one thing, I came to Hopkins and I joined SOURCE to work in the community and I’m not taking this degree and running away. I hope to use this experience and everything I learn from working with SOURCE’s community-based organizations and dedicate my time towards improving my community. My community is East Baltimore and I’m not going anywhere.
Sarah finds a kaleidoscope of inspiration from the city like this mural
As a student at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, sometimes it feels like life is defined by my to-do list. It is not just the homework (though there is plenty), or the group meetings (though there are plenty of those too), but the constant striving, as we are tasked, to decipher how we might “save lives millions at a time.” There is always that important email to send, that incredible professor to track down, that lecture to look up on YouTube. We fight with time each night before we fall asleep, just wishing we could coax out a little more.
Luckily, for me, the sand seems to stop slipping through the hourglass once a week. On Thursday mornings, I head for a few hours to the Henderson-Hopkins School—a world away from Bloomberg, though just down the street. Here, instead of rushing through what I need to accomplish, I am seeped in the humor and excitement and color of each moment. I am fielding rapid-fire questions from two six-year-olds: “Are you a teen? Will you eat lunch with us? Can we hide in your office? Do you have a baby?” I am walking behind a line of handholding two-year-olds; they sniffle and giggle and bump into one another. Though, yes, I am sifting through reports on school-based health, uncovering treasure troves of neighborhood data, typing up survey questions, I’m doing it all to the off-key refrain of “Happy Birthday” that echoes down the hall. I’m laughing with kindergartners, and nothing quite matters from that to-do list of mine.
I spend time at Henderson-Hopkins for my SOURCE-affiliated MPH practicum, and am grateful whenever I’m there for the way it slows me down. Quite literally, I may be caught walking behind a line of toddlers, but in the broader sense, my eyes and my heart both have the time and the chance to open up. In other SOURCE experiences in the community as well, be it helping a resettled refugee choose an interview outfit, or hearing a former gang member tell stories of his past, my small world is shifted on its axis, and I have a moment to experience what textbooks and classroom discussions never can truly capture: stepping into someone else’s life. For a few minutes, or a few hours, the threads of our separate, often incongruous, narratives weave together and both tales are made a bit brighter.
Incidentally, when I myself was a kindergartner, I was enamored with kaleidoscopes—something about all that color and sparkle hidden inside, if I just took a moment to look. Now, years later, it is as though SOURCE has handed me a kaleidoscope again. My homework, my projects, my to-do list, are usurped, however briefly, by the tumble of colors and shapes and scenes out in the community, and I’m surprised, amazed, pulled in and delighted by each new turn.
The walk from Bloomberg to Henderson-Hopkins is short. It’s a few steps, a turn of the hand, and suddenly, like a kaleidoscope, everything shines, more brilliant and dazzling and illuminating than before.