Right now, I’m in a van with seven other new employees, we’re riding around on a rainy day visiting the nine different health clinics Project Vida offers. Many are in rural areas of southeast El Paso, places like Succuro and Montana Vista seem to be comprised of big box stores, mobile home parks, little taquerias with hand painted signs, stray dogs, and stretches of the border wall.
Most of my fellow new hires and coworkers are El Paso natives, attended UTEP, speak Spanish, and are knowledgeable about the community they are serving. Most of whom I’ve spoken to have backgrounds in insurance, construction reception, or were homemakers. I really like that Project Vida strives to be comprised of people who may or may not have the typical non-profit experience, and rather seems to be looking to do what I believe every struggling community would do if it could; help itself, with its own people, in its own language. You can learn more about Project Vida on their website.
When choosing my co-op, Project Vida caught my attention because it gave me the opportunity to explore a career in healthcare, specifically through a non-profit, high-need population perspective. They started in the 90’s with community meetings in the living room of the founder, Bill Schlessinger. In recent years, Project Vida has taken off dramatically, and now provides community health centers, affordable housing, homelessness prevention, behavioral health services, childcare, economic development, and, the department I belong to, Chronic Care Coordination, Sexual Health, and Family Planning. All of these services are based on a sliding-scale billing method, if applicable, and a client is never turned down if they are unable to pay.
So far, my medical shadowing experiences have been the most engrossing and valuable part of my internship. I was able to shadow Dr. Luis Garza MD, the medical director of Project Vida. I spent a week with him learning how he balances aspects of the job like charting and patient care, he explained his use of medications, specialists, and how he troubleshoots. I really enjoyed meeting the population that Project Vida serves, my role as a shadow often was to enter behind Dr. Garza and observe the appointment through and through (always with consent), many of the older patients would ask; “¿es este tu hijo?”, if I was his son. I witnessed the diagnosis and treatment of plantar fasciitis, hypertension, diabetes, hepatitis C, arthritis, herpes, and a muscular injury. I observed minor surgery
with the removal of a birth control implant and then watched again as another one was inserted. I attended providers meeting and got a real taste of how a small community health center functions; the workflow, printing, no-shows, lab results, pots of coffee, and all. I also got to interact with and shadow other healthcare providers, including a registered nurse, a physician assistant, a nurse practitioner, and other MDs. I even spoke to medical students attending Texas Tech and heard woe of what medical school is like they were shadowing Dr.Garza, too.
My environment has varied a lot; one week I was with the Mobile clinic and outreach team in rural Succuro, another week I shadowed Dr. Meissner the Chief Psychiatrist, and recently I’ve been in schools with Project Vida’s Navigation department as part of their BeWell program which connects schoolchildren in need with mental health services by bringing therapists on campus.
Living in El Paso has been really beautiful. The sunrises are technicolor and the mountains are always on the horizon. I got really lucky and met some great people through the sublet I’m staying at. They both happen to be in the healthcare field. Nick is a pharmacist and Javier went to medical school in Mexico and is currently a professor for medical assistants. They’ve been great fun in showing me the El Paso area and bought me my first real churro. My memory of my time here will be indefinitely intertwined with them.
This coop has been both effective and affective. I’ve met so many people and heard so many horrible and harrowing stories, experienced the downtrodden, and met those who are hopeful as well having been witness to a movement that has made a dent in the suffering. I look forward to the rest I have to learn,. there is much, I know.