Growing up in Waverly, Ohio, where 35 % of residents live below poverty level and the physician to patient ratio is 1:1,300, Valerie Francis '12 felt called to serve the needs of the rural poor from an early age. As a Biology major, Valerie is pursuing a career in the medical field to serve those in her community who often go without basic medical care due to limited resources or medical insurance. Last summer, she returned home to work alongside doctors and nurses at a community health clinic, experiencing firsthand what life awaits her beyond Wheaton.
How did you get involved in this internship?
I became involved in my internship at Community Action's Family Health Clinic (FHC) because it is the intersection of my interest in medicine and my interest in alleviating the effects of poverty on marginalized people groups. FHC primarily serves families who have Medicaid, Medicare, or no insurance, which means that many clinics turn them away. When I found out that FHC existed, I immediately wanted to intern there because I hope to return to Waverly in the future to work in rural medicine. Although FHC is not a Christian clinic, I believe that providing medical care for the poor fits easily into God's call for us, as Christians, to loosen the chains of injustice, to walk humbly with God, and to preach Good News to the poor. For me, pursuing a future career in rural medicine is what it means to follow God's call and I'm having a blast along the way!
What do you do day to day at the clinic?
I do a lot of observing at the clinic because of licensing laws, but there are many things that I can do on my own. I work in intake, which means that I take peoples vitals (height, weight, temperature, blood pressure) and put patients in their rooms. I have also worked for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, helping with checkups and observing a midwife, doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners.
One day I visited an HIV clinic that isn't directly associated with the clinic. It was amazing to see the relative normalcy of life to HIV patients when they are able to consistently take meds to keep their viral loads down! What I witnessed all day was truly comparable to a diabetes clinic - almost boring in the way that everyone was well controlled and simply needed refills for their meds so that they could stay that way, but at some point in the day I realized that I was witnessing a miracle. It's truly miraculous that it's possible to overcome HIV enough to thrive. We MUST share this with the rest of the world. We cannot keep this gift in our privileged hands, we must be intentional about finding ways to reach the majority world with the treatment they need.
How has what you've learned at Wheaton prepared you for this experience?
Wheaton has prepared me for this experience in the classroom and outside of the classroom. My classes as a Biology major have been rigorous, to say the least, but providers that I work with are continually impressed with the information I know about Anatomy and Physiology or Public Health and Nutrition topics. I can't applaud myself on that, I know these things because my professors have prepared me well! I've also taken urban studies classes that have helped me understand the systemic causes of this poverty and the ways in which the system often fails people in need. At FHC, I've seen the things we discussed in my classes firsthand.
Outside of the classroom, my general relationships with friends have challenged me and prepared me for this internship. At Wheaton, students and professors are constantly looking at situations to assess injustices and how our work can bring the gospel to others. Through talking with my professors, I have realized the extreme medical needs in my hometown (physician to patient ratio close to 1:1,300) and that I can live my life for God by sharing the gospel through healthcare among the poor.
What has been your favorite experience so far?
My favorite experience so far has been witnessing three births! Two of the births were natural births and the other was a C-section. The natural births were the most powerful events I've ever witnessed!
Has this affected any future plans you have for school/career?
This internship has affirmed my desire to pursue rural medicine. Because I grew up in a rural area, I have always understood there is a need for practitioners in rural areas, but doing an internship in a clinic has shown me just how great that need is. I feel the call of God even more strongly after experiencing this internship.
Something interesting about you:
I took my first dance class when I was three years old and haven't stopped dancing since then!