Photograph by Jamie Betts

I bridged the gap between the physician and the patient. I basically harassed the patients to make an appointment, and I dealt specifically with chronic-illness patients — patients who suffer from hypertension, heart disease, asthma, [ailments] like that.

When I first started the internship, that’s what I thought it would be — just me calling patients. However, I found it was a very intimate process of calling a patient and letting them know, “I know the problems you have health-wise, and I want to help you.”

I had to do an academic component. We [Henderson and adviser Rick Mayes, assistant professor of public policy] came up with an academic plan of books I read, videos I watched, and assignments I did to help increase my understanding.

I knew it would give me informed knowledge of the health care system and health care disparities in certain communities. I [also] knew actually having the experience would give me anecdotal knowledge — seeing theoretical versus practice.

I thought, “I’m going to be in a hospital setting. I’m going to basically be a doctor.” It was kind of this fantasy I had going into it.

The first couple of weeks, I still had that kind of romance about it. I thought, “I’m helping people. I’m making sure these patients make their appointments, and I am an instrument by which their condition is being controlled.”

I was sitting at a desk, and I wasn’t even interacting with the patients all the time, besides on the phone. I started to lose focus of the bigger picture, so I had to kind of check myself.

The academic component helped me with that, which I did not anticipate. It helped me stay inspired and realize the importance of the work that I was doing. I was actually helping real people, and it intensified when people started to express their gratitude. I was calling it harassment, but they didn’t see it that way.

There’s a stigma around health care and hospitals. [Some] patients do not have trust for physicians or hospitals.

I was emotionally invested in the lives of the patients that I was dealing with because I understood. I have family members who suffer from chronic illness. Every patient that I dealt with was in an unfortunate circumstance where they lived in food deserts or had a mistrust of doctors. They didn’t have the means by which to make their lifestyles healthy to prevent those chronic illnesses, so I felt that on a much deeper level.

There wasn’t a disconnect between the patients and myself. I’m not someone coming from privilege to this underprivileged community and trying to help out. I came from [a similar] community.

I would say, “I understand where you’re coming from. However, you have Type 2 diabetes, and you need your insulin whether or not you trust the doctor.”