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Embracing the Discomfort in Imperfect Solutions

Dear Future Volunteers,

In my placement as a social work assistant at Mercy Medical Center, I get the opportunity to work with patients at all stages of their hospital stay, from their visit in the Emergency Department, through inpatient admission, and all the way to their discharge. My role is to connect them with community resources and work alongside the doctors, nurses, and the rest of the medical team to ensure that their needs are met in the hospital and following their discharge. My patients often have a complicated set of obstacles affecting their health, ranging from housing insecurity to a history of substance abuse to general financial struggles. They are sick, frustrated, and scared. I provide resources and assistance, but as you may guess, these only go so far. It is often a great disappointment to both my patients and myself to find out that the social determinants of health that so often cause, or at least significantly contribute, to the health challenges they face are deeply ingrained in our society and not easily overcome. 

Yet some of the most rewarding and memorable moments at my placement have come when I embrace the discomfort and disappointment of not having an answer or resource to fix every issue my patients face, and I simply sit and be with them. Many times I have experienced the powerful impact of compassion, of listening to a patient without seeking to offer advice, and of admitting that what a patient is going through is unfair and difficult, and that I am sorry and I am here to listen. 

As someone who, like many of us, likes to fix things for others and do things to help, this is never easy. It can make me feel inadequate or unhelpful, and it can be tempting to draw inwards, away from the difficulty and awkwardness of not having an answer. It takes a degree of courage and vulnerability to admit to a patient that there are no answers or solutions to all of their problems – that the emergency shelter will only be a temporary housing option or that they do not qualify for the financial assistance programs currently available. 

In a way, the challenge and discomfort discussed here is a representation of my year of service as a whole. Over the past four months, in my placement, community, and personal life, I have been challenged time and time again to show courage, vulnerability, and a willingness to adapt to new circumstances. This challenge has pushed me out of my comfort zone and created growth in ways I never expected. I urge you to consider a year of service to discover the value in vulnerability and discomfort, and to experience the beauty of being with those whom you serve. 


Josh French

Josh French: Baltimore, Maryland

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