A New Direction: Pediatrics in a School-Based Health Clinic

Cleaning out some boxes of sentimental keepsakes and writings from my high school days, I came across one of my college application essays. 

As I read my essay, I met my high school self again.  Idealistic.  Hopeful.  Ambitious, but still unsure of what I wanted out of life.  I wrote about the ways in which I saw the different interests and experiences in my life converge to create a picture of who I am meant to be.  I described life as a tapestry, intricately woven and uniquely complex.  Hands down, it was a totally cheesy essay.  Nevertheless, almost 20 years later, I still agree with what I wrote then.

I was and still am a dreamer.  I love ideas and projects.  I love going off-the-beaten track.  I love thinking about the impossible and rooting for the hopeless.

There are things about my high school self that make me cringe, but one thing I am grateful for during those awkward and emotional years was the ability to dream big.  To see the future without fear, albeit with naivete.  I don’t know how that was instilled in me, but I am thankful for every person and experience that encouraged the dreamer in me.

This year, I’ve been surprised by a new opportunity and new direction in my work as a pediatrician.   I’ve always enjoyed working in a community clinic and exploring ways to effectively bridge the gaps of culture, language, and socioeconomic disparities.  Recently, our community clinic branched out to establish school-based health clinics in the area as a means to improve access to care.  The model excites me because it is a sustainable extension to our main clinic that remains open even when the school is closed or on break.  I can also work with the school and community in ways that wouldn’t be possible in an office setting, challenging me to think outside the box and question what a pediatrician can do to better connect with the families we serve.  I can still see newborns through adolescents, but being on a school campus gives me a chance to focus a little more on school health, education and prevention, and community collaboration.

School-based clinics are not a new idea, but they still aren’t common.   I am learning as I go how to best use my presence to create a medical home for the families we serve.  It is so much fun to see my training as a doctor, my interest in education, my values as a parent, and my idealism in the worth of every child all come together in this innovative context. 

There are plenty of kinks.  There are always new challenges.  There is much more work to be done.  But I am loving every moment of it and enjoying this tapestry of life that I waxed philosophical about back when I was 17 years old.

You really are never too old to dream big.

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