IAP Health Reflection: Patricia

When I was thinking of what to do over IAP, I thought a lot about what I wanted at the end of January. I was brutal when applying to externships — I eliminated opportunities that didn’t seem like they would teach me something I wanted to use in a career, even if they seemed fun. So it’s ironic that when I ended up being interviewed by PKG, and they asked me what I thought I’d gain through their Boston Medical Center (BMC) IAP program, I said, “I don’t know.”

But it was true – I didn’t know. I explained that I had a good idea of what I might gain: this would be the first time I worked in a healthcare setting that didn’t directly treat patients, and I welcomed the opportunity to help people with a (still mysterious) project while gathering knowledge about their jobs. By the first day of IAP, my idea of my month was still very vague. I got on the bus knowing that I was about to help out the Autism Program at BMC, and very little else.  

There were eleven other interns. Our first day was taken up by a meeting that introduced us to our projects. I was assigned to the “Autism Friendly” team, whose goal was to make the hospital experience easier for patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Two other interns and I were assigned to spend the month updating the Autism Friendly homepage on the BMC site, building a web portal for educational resources, and creating a mobile app version of the program’s social stories website. (Social stories are used to help patients with ASD familiarize themselves with various situations.)

I was daunted by these projects when I was initially introduced to them — an acquaintanceship with web development was the only relevant knowledge I had, although I could get myself to look forward to having experience with databases and mobile apps at the end of January. It was also interesting that there were lectures at the hospital I could attend, and that I was allotted one morning to shadow in the pediatric wing that was responsible for seeing patients with ASD. 

In fact, my shadowing day happened in the first week of the program. I was amazed by the reality of the appointments I sat in on. It’s one thing to hear that there are families affected by ASD, and another thing to see them. I spent the morning devastated by one child after another who was not hitting developmental milestones — one of the children I saw, of the age at which my youngest sister had all of ‘Dynamite’ by Taio Cruz memorized, couldn’t communicate at all. I pitied those families, but more than that, I wanted to help them. 

Unfortunately, that desire was not fulfilled at the workplace during my first week. The projects I was working on felt disconnected to the overall goal of helping people with ASD, or even helping myself — it turned out the program wanted websites and apps built through outside companies, so my team spent our first few days Googling these instead of developing our own skills. I went home frustrated every single day. Eventually, I stopped to think and realized why: I had found out what I was going to gain from my IAP, and I didn’t like it. It made me upset that my volunteer work didn’t utilize or further a skill of mine, and didn’t seem to be making the impact I’d joined the program to do. I liked the people I worked with, but that was small potatoes — it would be a waste of time to complete January with nothing but a few new friends.

So I talked to PKG, and then I talked to my supervisors about BMC. I told them why I felt like I wasn’t doing the best work I could do. The conversation I had with my supervisor, Alex, was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had — understandably, it was uncomfortable to tell someone I’d only met a few times that the experience he’d put together for me had not been enjoyable so far.

However, when I went home that day, I felt lighter. I knew that I had begun to do what I could to make my experience the best that it could be, and I was wholly reassured that the folks at BMC wanted me to have a good month just as much as I did. I’ve spent every day since grateful for that. I won’t go into too many of the details, but my supervisors at BMC and I worked together to shift projects in a direction that I could be proud of. I even got to use my budding web development skills! (See image.)

So the biggest, best lesson I learned this month was about what I learned this month. There was a point in my first week at BMC when I stopped answering the question “What will I get from January?” with “I don’t know.” I sat myself down and said, “What will I get from January? I will get knowledge about careers that fit me or do not fit me. I will get to use all of my relevant skills because I’ll make sure they’re known. I will get to help those people whom I saw when I was in clinic — if I get more confused about the impact I am making, I’ll continue asking questions until it’s clarified to me. I will get to do my best; I will get some lifelong friends.” And I did exactly that.

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