At the Gregg Stracks Leadership Summit last September, PCP chapter leaders from around the country learned some of the skills needed to mobilize for better primary care training on their campuses. Among those skills, students learned to tell the story of why they were drawn to primary care, also known as The Story of Self. Here, Christopher Danford, a summit participant, shares his story.
By Christopher Danford
I was standing outside a shower stall at 3 a.m. with a half-empty colostomy bag in my hand. My job at the time was with a managed care organization in western North Carolina that provided home care to men with mental retardation and multiple medical needs. “Del” lived in the group home where I worked. He was 70 years old, severely developmentally disabled, and had lived his entire life in an institution as a ward of the state. He also had a habit of picking at his colostomy, and if it wasn’t attached properly, he would pick at it until it leaked: into the bed, onto his pajamas, down his leg, and onto the floor. More than once, I found Del walking down the hall with his colostomy bag partially removed and had to help him into the shower.
Replacing a colostomy doesn’t require an understanding of biochemistry or immunology, but on many nights during my shift at the group home, it was exactly what was needed. I worked in that house years before I made my way to medical school but I have so many memories from the nights that I spent there. Those experiences with Del were some of my first experiences with someone who was in ill health, vulnerable, and needing help. Being there for him was satisfying to me, and I now recognize it was the first time I felt the calling to medicine.
It was also the first time I made a connection between service and health. Growing up, my parents were active in the local service work of our Methodist church, and taught my siblings and me by example about the responsibility to serve our neighbors and our city. During summers in high school, I went with other youth from my church on work projects to coastal South Carolina where we worked with Rural Mission, a fantastic non-profit organization in Johns Island, SC that partners young people with residents of the local community to provide home repairs and renovations. In particular, I remember one summer spending the better part of a week on my back working under the toilet bowl of a man who had been without a functioning commode in his home for almost a year. As a young person, it was in that setting that I first learned to recognize my privileges, put aside my pride, confront inequality, and do something about it.
Those lessons still guide me, and I know that many of my peers have similar values. I’m proud to be part of a generation that holds community service as one of its driving values. The Corporation for National and Community Service
, the US federal agency that administers the AmeriCorps program, has noted that more young people are active in service than ever before
. This speaks of a generation that recognizes its privilege and wants to give back, and it should be no surprise that many of these young people are attracted to medicine as a way to fulfill that commitment to service.
For those in my generation who share this value: there is a place for you in medicine. But it may not be in the cath lab, the endoscopy suite, or the radiology reading room. Our place is in creating access and being there for people when they get sick. Our place is helping those burdened with illness to live safely at home and not in the hospital. Our place is serving our communities with what they need now. There is a place for you in medicine on the front lines with us in primary care.
Christopher Danford, a fourth-year medical student at Duke University, is a North-Carolina native, a husband and a father. He is a fellow in Duke’s Primary Care Leadership, a new four-year MD program for students who are passionate about community health and primary care. An aspiring family physician, Christopher is entering the 2013 match.