Serving the Underserved
Third-year NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) student Nina Luksanapol was riding the New York City subway when she heard the good news. She received a scholarship from the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program, a federally funded program to improve healthcare in medically underserved areas. Nina sat down with The Box to reflect on how her public health experience at NYITCOM is helping to prepare her for her future career in medicine.
Tell us about your project that earned you this scholarship. Over the summer, I enrolled in the Community Health Experience through the Manhattan-Staten Island AHEC program.
Students from our school are placed in different sites throughout New York City and Long Island, and I was assigned to the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center. I operated the syringe exchange program, administered vaccines to clients, created a curriculum for support groups, and conducted rapid HIV and Hepatitis C testing. I was thrown into all of the agency’s operations right from the beginning, and it was an experience for which I cannot be thankful enough.
What excited you most about this project?
I was so excited to work on the Lower East Side, a neighborhood that I have been spending my time in for the past eight years. It gave me the opportunity to give back to the community. I worked with clients who use intravenous (IV) drugs, have a history of drug use, or, more generally, are on the fringes of society.
The agency connected clients to social workers, easier healthcare access, and other vital resources that many of us usually take for granted. I involved myself in as much as I could, and talked to clients to learn about their lifestyle, their struggles, and their hopes for society and healthcare.
How did this experience prepare you for a career in medicine?
It allowed me to interact with people I would not normally interact with, which will help me better understand my future patients. And honestly, after a year of keeping my head in my books and studying, it was refreshing to work in a place that brought me back to why I wanted to become a physician in the first place. It was invigorating to work in a setting that empowered and supported people and to see the immediate effects of the work that was being done there.
I was also able to work alongside social workers that support their clients from the moment they were taken in by the agency and to hear about the success stories that came from client-centered, longitudinal support. I learned that “helping people,” something that all physicians want to do, could be achieved from different approaches.
Why did you choose NYITCOM?
NYITCOM has a huge presence in New York City hospitals, which is where I would eventually like to work. I first learned about NYITCOM through my mentor, an alumnus, during my freshman year of college. He told me about the many resources as well as the support provided by the school, which I found to be true as soon as I got here.
What are your future career plans?
Eventually, I would like to become a hospital administrator so that I may tackle some of the issues that I learned about this past summer. At the moment, the biggest question I have been facing is which specialty I’d like to go into. I’m torn between OB/GYN and anesthesiology. I am interested in women’s health as well as tackling the growing opioid epidemic that is often prompted by improper pain management. Whatever area I specialize in, I plan to work in a public hospital to treat underserved communities that cannot afford private healthcare.