From lay to professional health advocateAs part of my Master’s program, we have to do three internships.  My first internship was with the Global Healthy Living Foundation (the nonprofit parent organization to CreakyJoints).

My second internship is in the Patient Advocacy Department at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), which is known for its orthopedic surgery and rheumatology. 

I began two weeks ago and I am in love.

While I’ve known since the beginning of my program that I’m in the right place academically, my experience thus far at HSS has confirmed for me that I’m in the right place professionally, as well. 

There’s something about being able to talk to patients and address their problems and concerns that is really exciting and challenging. 

I’ve known for many years that I am an advocate for myself, as a patient, but was not really sure how that would translate into being an advocate for other people.  It turns out that my personal experience really informs the solutions I come up with to help patients, or the necessary questions to ask other parties such as billing, insurance, and doctors.  

There’s definitely a difference, though, in that when I advocate for myself, I am the one who benefits from that advocacy.  In my internship, however, while the goal is to help patients, which is balanced by the fact that I first and foremost work for the hospital. 

More than anything, this internship has so far shown me how broken our health care system really is.  There are so many fractures, and so much that is confusing to the average patient.  So how can individuals advocate for themselves when they don’t know the ins and outs a of system that is so (and often purposefully) complicated?   

It’s so important that patients have allies that can help them through the maze that is the healthcare system.  I think it would be great if at least one person in a doctor’s front office had more training so many of the issues that patients end up having could be resolved if someone had that knowledge. 

But they don’t.  And eventually patients will get frustrated enough that they either give up or they end up seeking out a patient advocate.  

That’s very similar to what happens to chronically ill students in higher education.  They either give up or find someone who will at least try and help them. 

So what I am seeing at the hospital level seems consistent with the kinds of things that are happening to patients involved in other institutions. 

I didn’t really know what to expect from my hospital placement.  Almost everyone who completes my program will complete a hospital placement.  I picked HSS because of my familiarity with the patient populations that are served by rheumatologists. 

This is just the beginning, but I am so happy that I have evolved from a lay health advocate to a professional one.  It’s not a transition that every patient needs or wants to make, but it has been the right transition for me.