Feature Stories Campus Events

‘An Active Participant in Solutions’ Through the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, Tyra Barrett '18 interned at the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers in New Jersey.

“This kind of experience is crucial to W&L students because it allows us to work and to gain experiences firsthand in under-resourced communities.”

Tyra Barrett ’18

Tyra Barrett ’18
Hometown: Grayson, Georgia
Major: Biology
Minor: Poverty and Human Capabilities

Tell us a little bit about your summer opportunity:

Through the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP), I interned at the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers in Camden, New Jersey. Their main goal is to improve the health care system in order to meet the medical and social health needs of patients, particularly those who are high-risk. During the summer, I worked on the Patient Satisfaction Survey project, which assesses patient opinion of their primary care clinic, their demographics, and potential barriers that they may face, such as food insecurity. This is an initiative of the Camden City Accountable Care Organization (ACO), which is a collective of hospitals and clinics within Camden City that collaborate together in order to provide quality healthcare to the patients that they serve. This opportunity was funded by the Williams Endowment for the Shepherd Program at Washington and Lee University.

What did you think about Camden?

While Camden has the reputation of being one of America’s most impoverished and dangerous cities, the city has taken impressive measures to improve its environment. Camden played host to a large number of events, such as concerts, so if we had time, my fellow SHECP interns and I would attend these events. Furthermore, Camden is right across from Philadelphia, so it was extremely convenient to go to Philadelphia sometimes on weekends.

What did an average day for you look like?

My fellow Coalition interns and I met in the morning to have a daily huddle to discuss our game plan for the day, such as which clinics we would visit that day. Afterwards, we dispersed in pairs to different clinics around Camden to sit down and speak with patients about their experience while helping them to fill out surveys. If the clinics were not too busy, we took that opportunity to analyze the data we collected from the survey.

What was the most rewarding part of your experience?

The most rewarding part was the rich conversations that happened with the patients that I had the pleasure to interact with. Through those conversations, I learned more about the realities of what Camden residents faced. Furthermore, these experiences helped to humanize the survey in a meaningful and thoughtful manner.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

I think the biggest challenge was learning what did or did not work on this project. Often times, we learned the hard way what did not work with this survey, so whenever an obstacle occurred, it was always a situation where we had to pause and reflect on these mistakes. However, through this trial and error, we were able to critically fix the flaws of this project for future interns.

Who has served as a mentor to you this summer, and what is the best thing they taught you?

I would say that my peer Coalition interns were my biggest mentors this summer. We were a tight-knit group, and most of them were completing medical school or some other post-grad degree, so they had a good amount of insight to offer. I think the best lesson that they taught me was that even when a door is shut, it does not mean that it is locked. Furthermore, they taught me that it is OK to take a break in order to find a career that you truly love.

What have you learned at W&L that helped you in this endeavor, and what will you bring back to your life on campus?

At W&L, I learned what it means to be a member of a community. It means being aware of your position within the community that you serve and being an active participant in solutions of issues that affect the community. These lessons in community were particularly useful during my time in Camden. Now that I am back on campus, I hope to bring with me the lessons that Camden residents have taught me in resilience and ingenuity in terms of community improvement.

Did this experience impact your studies or future plans in any way?

This internship has highlighted two major flaws within our current health care system. For one, our current health care system often leaves those who are the most vulnerable, particularly those who live in poverty, the most unprotected. Furthermore, while our health care system focuses on the medical determinants of health, it often neglects the social determinants of health, which are major players of our overall health and well being. These lessons have helped to shape my future plans as I pursue a career in public health.

Why is this kind of experience important to W&L students?

This kind of experience is crucial to W&L students because it allows us to work and to gain experiences firsthand in under-resourced communities. This opportunity allows us to learn what obstacles under-resourced communities face and how community organizations are implementing innovative programs in order to conquer these obstacles.

Describe your summer adventure in one word.

Powerful