Yesterday was the busiest and best day of my entire work year. Every May we hold a conference for community health workers and patient navigators. The purpose of the conference is to bring this workforce together for learning, skills-building, and networking. It is a gift to work with these outstanding women and men who are serving their communities so well. Yesterday was that conference and I am once again overwhelmed by the privilege of working with these people, many of whom I have trained, others who have become personal friends.
Community health workers have been around for a while — their earliest mention was from Russia in the 1800’s. They were called “Feldshers” and were trained as layleaders to assist physicians and work in rural areas when physicians were not able to be present. The program that brought this idea to greater recognition and popularity was the successful Chinese Barefoot Doctor Program. This began around 1930 and is foundational to the idea of community members successfully working within their communities as lay health leaders.
In the 1980s, as health programs around the world faced budget problems, this workforce was unfortunately almost forgotten. We have only recently seen a resurgence and emphasis on community health worker and patient navigation programs.
A report published by the World Health Organization in 2007 highlights the work of these lay health leaders, not just as health care providers, but more importantly as advocates for their communities and agents of social change to “fight against inequities and advocate community rights and needs to government structures.”
This year our conference theme was “Telling Our Stories.” Anyone who has read this blog knows my love of stories. I wanted the theme to highlight the stories of these community health workers and patient navigators and how those stories intersect with the work they do. We had participants from across the country as well as Puerto Rico and Turkey. We had presentations from people on care of immigrants, maternal child health, caring for young adults who have cancer and more. It was a beautiful picture of the work that is done every single day with little recognition by a system focused on more and more education and less and less true patient care.
Each year we try to highlight the work that patient navigators and community health workers do through film. Film allows us to showcase their work in ways that others can better understand, without acronyms and medical speak, but with passion and heart. This year we focused on three navigators – Maria, Sabrina, and Mariuca. Not only are they navigators who do amazing work, I am also proud to call them my friends.
I have included the film so you can hear some of their stories and be inspired by the work that they do. Thanks for letting me brag on this group of people today. It is my privilege to work side by side with them.