2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Maggie Lavoie

Internship Location: Culmore Clinic

Journal Entry #1:

Hi, my name is Maggie Lavoie and I am rising third-year interning at the Culmore Clinic in Falls Church, Virginia this summer. Culmore Clinic is a 501(c)(3), non-profit healthcare clinic serving low-income adults in the Bailey’s Crossroads community at little to no cost. Supported by a diverse group of interfaith volunteers, healthcare providers, and donors, Culmore Clinic offers compassionate medical care, counseling services as well as specialty referrals. Their commitment to care for all is displayed with their top-notch medical interpretation services to ensure effective treatment to the culturally diverse community in which they work (97% immigrant population). Volunteers founded The Clinic in 2007 and to this day it is still significantly volunteer run, allowing more resources to go toward patient care.

While I was in UVA this past month taking a class during the first summer session, I was doing remote work as the Clinic prepared to launch their new website. I helped with backlogging webpages and transferring blog posts from the old website to the new. This was great exposure to using the website designer SquareSpace that I know will be helpful down the road for my own purposes and potential future jobs.

My first week working at the Clinic has been eye-opening and has made me excited for what’s to come for the rest of the summer. I began training under the “Patient Navigator” Pedro who has taught me how to register clinic patients. What I have learned about Pedro’s position--and my future position--is the extent and breadth of what the Clinic offers. Pedro’s job is technically just to register clinic patients by taking down their information and uploading it to the database. However, I saw how Pedro interviews the patients, learns their story, and knows to ask specific questions so that he can learn more about them and help them with anything the clinic may offer. The Clinic’s patients rarely speak English and often are confused by the complexity of the US healthcare system and the misinformation they receive. It is up to the Clinic and its largely volunteer staff to be the one ones to ‘show them the way.’ Pedro is their “navigator” --exactly what his position title demonstrates. Pedro has been teaching me how to calm patients, ask further questions, reassure them, provide clear information, and refer them to either the Clinic’s counselling services or any other programs and resources that may benefit them.

Though I have only been here for a few days, my work has felt very rewarding, and I look forward to coming every day. I hope I can continue with this outlook as I learn more and meet more patients and community members. My main goal is to improve my Spanish, so that I can better communicate with the patients and improve my own confidence in my ability to speak the language. I am striving the serve the Culmore Clinic as best as I can, as I have been so impressed by the work that they already do. 

Journal Entry #2: 

After a few weeks into my internship, I have moved to the role as Front Desk. I have been switching around, but I feel like I am learning quickly on the job, and my Spanish is being challenged as I keep up on medical and Clinic-related vocab! As I have gotten to spend more time with patients in the reception area, I have learned some of their stories and it has been eye-opening.

Last week, one patient walking in very frazzled after her boss wouldn’t let her leave on time, and she had to work extra hours and was distraught that she may miss her appointment. It didn’t help that it was pouring rain and the busses were running slow. When she finally made it to The Clinic several hours late, we were thankfully able to squeeze her into the busy schedules of the doctors and Nurse Practitioners. She told me she hadn’t eaten all day, and I was able to run to the break room and get her a little snack. As we were chatting, she shared her general frustrations, explaining that she had worked at Harris Teeter for 7 years with no raise and that it was very far from her home. I encouraged her to talk to her supervisor, but she pushed back, expressing fear she would be fired. I recognize that she may not have taken my advice to speak up, but this interaction profoundly affected me. I could relate to her about the stress of being late to an appointment and having to work some overtime, but I have never been in a position where I was genuinely scared to advocate for myself. Sure, I’ve been nervous or intimidated at times, but it’s never been because my job was my only source of income or that I had more to lose than simply a job if I were unemployed.

Another woman talked with me about her daughters back in her home country, and how she came to the US to make money so that they she could send them to college. She asked me if I went to college, and I said that yes, I was in the middle of my time at UVA. She said that she was so proud of me for going to college, and this is something I don’t normally hear from people. I was fortunate enough to grow up with the understanding that I would go to college and graduate. For me, going to college was instead a matter of which one I would choose, not simply the fact that I was going. The patient was smiling ear to ear and then told me I reminded her of her daughter. She told me how much she missed all of her children, who were back in her home country, and began to tell me all about them only to be called by the nursing station for intake before she could see a doctor. These are only two examples of interactions, but each day I am constantly reminded of how hard the patients work and how much I have subconsciously taken for granted in my life. More so, I am motivated to return to UVA as a Global Security & Justice major and learn as much as possible about immigration and immigration policy, so that these patients and others can access the services and care they need and deserve.

Journal Entry #3: 

As I gathered in the main office on my last morning of my internship, I got choked up and quickly wiped away a tear before anyone noticed, as the Clinic Staff handed me flowers and a card and thanked me for the time I spent with them over the summer. I’ve only been at school for a short time, but I already miss working with this group of strong women and the patients themselves. 

My internship title was initially “Events and Internal Marketing Intern,” and I quickly became a lot more. I was happy to perform any task handed to me, and my superiors were even happier to hear it. As I mentioned in my first blog post, I started training under the “Patient Navigator” Pedro, and was able to practice my Spanish and interact with the Clinic patients on a one-on-one basis. Shortly after I wrote my blog post, the Clinic lost one of its main volunteers, and I immediately took over the role of Front Desk because of my Spanish-speaking abilities. This role required checking patients in and out; balancing the flow of the patients from nursing intake to practitioner (the Clinic is lucky to have a variety of practitioners--NPs, doctors, physical therapists, and counsellors); and often explaining to patients how the Clinic operated, how they could be referred to different care, or how the general healthcare system worked. I quickly learned that no question was out of bounds. Being in the reception area, I also got to chat with the patients and learn about their lives, especially patients who had recurring appointments. This was my favorite part. They were often impressed by my Spanish, and they always emphasized how grateful they were for the Clinic and the amazing work and service the organization performed for them. 

In addition to working the Front Desk, I kept up my duties as the Events and Marketing intern by helping organize for the annual International Food & Wine Tasting (the Clinic’s largest fundraiser) and interviewing other staff for the Clinic’s blog. The interview process was also another highlight of my experience. I got to know more about each of the people I worked with, and why the Clinic was so special to them--something that made me appreciate my opportunity to be there even more. The majority of the interviews centered around what a great work environment the Clinic was, and especially the gratitude of the patients that made their work feel so valued. The vast majority of practitioners and staff at the Clinic are unpaid volunteers, and I am still in awe of their passion, drive, and generosity of their time. 

I walked away from this internship feeling proud of the work I was able to accomplish for the Clinic because it was so appreciated by my fellow coworkers and the patients themselves. The days were long, hectic, and frustrating at times, but I learned a lot about interpersonal relations in the workplace, how to connect with people, and how to get the job done in the most efficient and effective way possible--often because people’s health was at stake. I also walked away with a personal drive to work for the rights of immigrants and the uninsured. I met so many wonderful people who faced obstacles that seemed insurmountable to me, yet they still had hope for the future and were proud of what they had accomplished so far. This motivates me on a daily basis, makes me feel so grateful to have spent my summer there.