Two times a year, I facilitate a patient navigator/community health worker course. It is a core training that helps to prepare this workforce for working in clinic and community settings in the United States. The course is a hybrid of both in-person and online modules and runs for around 16 weeks.
At the end of the course, we have a ‘graduation’ of sorts; a time where we celebrate the success of the students.
Passing out the certificates is always exciting and emotional. It’s not easy to carry on your daily workload of working with patients while completing a course that demands your time, focus, and energy.
But it’s so much more than that. The truth is, the majority of this workforce are immigrants or refugees. They were birthed, raised, and educated in another land. They are doctors and lawyers, engineers and pharmacists. They left all that behind, and now they navigate other members of their community through a complicated health system. These are people that the United States “Let in.” The irony is profound. They have done nothing but make their communities stronger. They have learned the rules and language. They have sacrificed and worked hard.
Last week, we held our last class of the year. In that space we had the final learning session, but more importantly, we celebrated their achievement. The final exercise is a case study that they have to present to a small group. They all presented in English, even if their first language was not English. Despite the fact that I have studied three languages, I can’t even imagine doing a case study in anything other than English. I’m just not good enough – but they are.
We gave certificates and they walked away knowing that they accomplished something. But this is only a fraction of what they have accomplished. At a recent conference, I wrote this and I echo it today in this space:
Look around you for a moment. You are among an amazing group of people. You are in a room full of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. In this room are community health workers who bridge two worlds to serve their communities. In this room there are navigators who were doctors in Syria and pharmacists in Iraq; there are people who didn’t know any English when they first arrived in this the country, but now interpret for those with no voice. In this room, you will see women who survived the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and now make sure Haitians in this country can navigate the health care system. You will eat lunch with Syrians who survived ISIS, Iraqis who survived sanctions, an invasion, and displacement. You will have conversations with men and women who have traveled the world, and now sit in this space, dedicated to helping others. In this room you will find people who have a past history that could have determined the rest of their life, but instead they have chosen to share their stories and help others. You will find doulas who work with women who are far from home, comforting them and helping them through the pain of labor and childbirth. Look all around, and you see those who educate and advocate, who listen and connect, who bridge healthcare gaps all over the country. Look next to you and you will see one whose heart is open to so many different people. Look around and you will see a group of people who are, above all, kind. You are in the company of amazing people.
Last night, I was at a Red Sox game in Boston. It was a beautiful night with perfect weather and the Sox won! But it was more than that. As I looked around, I saw people of every different color and ethnicity. All singing “Sweet Caroline” – the iconic Neil Diamond song of the Red Sox; all cheering; all eating the famous Fenway Franks. Every color, every ethnicity. I’m the first to criticize the United States, the first to take a step back and look at it critically, but as I looked around, I had a moment. In all the sadness that has been a part of this week, in the killing and horror of Orlando, it was a moment to be proud to be living here.
And above all, I don’t want that to be taken away. I don’t want our country to become one that gets more and more scared, that shuts borders and fears the one who is “other.” I don’t want the “we can’t let them in” rhetoric to dominate.
Because all we do is “let them in.” They give us so much more in return. The trade is hardly fair.