Hillary Anderson after finishing the Boston Marathon in 2012.
My Road to Medical School
A Message from Hillary Anderson, MPH
Project Manager II
I’m leaving NICHQ next month after almost five wonderful years as a project coordinator and manager, and plan to go to medical school. People often ask me what led me to want to be a doctor. My time at NICHQ has certainly been instrumental in leading me in that direction. My time coaching urban youth lacrosse has also been a tremendous influence. And, as I am a dedicated Boston Marathon charity runner, this year’s tragic events came very close to home.
I joined NICHQ right after completing my undergraduate degree. As my first job in the public health sphere, NICHQ provided an introduction to different levels within our healthcare system. Two particular projects influenced my thinking. As a project coordinator working on the Improving Systems of Care for Children with Special Healthcare Needs (ISC) project, I learned about the complexities of care coordination and primary care-specialty care communication for children with epilepsy and infants with hearing loss. This project was my first encounter with the concept of a medical home, the idea that all healthcare should be integrated and patient-focused. I was continually impressed by the impact of provider and patient partnerships—and how small alterations in clinical assessments and their subsequent communication plans had noticeable improvements on the quality of care. NICHQ’s approach not only provided a different lens by which to view health systems like the medical home, but it also demonstrated to me the application of small-scale problem-solving through partnering with patients and families.
Working for NICHQ has also shown me the powerful influence that dedicated physicians can have even in the most disadvantaged communities. As a project manager on Be Our Voice, a project that taught healthcare providers how to become advocates against childhood obesity, I was responsible for supporting and engaging healthcare professionals in local settings throughout the US. At a site in New Mexico, I became engrossed in the delivery of healthcare to American Indian communities. The diverse team members became outstanding role models through their commitment to patient-centered care. They applied a combination of clinical diagnostics and a strong understanding of their patient populations to improve child health. From the project, I saw firsthand how physicians, in partnership with other healthcare professionals, can lead both clinical and community changes to enhance the health of a population.
While all this exciting work was going on for me at NICHQ, I was being inspired daily by my coaching experiences at MetroLacrosse, a non-profit organization whose mission is to address the social and economic disparities that exist in urban settings by inspiring personal, educational and athletic success among urban youth and teens. I had applied for a volunteer coaching position in the spring of 2009 and have been involved in a variety of programs and fundraising initiatives ever since.
Hillary coaching "Tsunami," one of her MetroLacrosse teams.
At the beginning of our first season, the girls struggled to jog a lap. We worked hard to motivate the team throughout practice, building confidence in their lacrosse skills and physical ability. I committed wholeheartedly to the organization's mission, using sports as a vehicle to teach life skills. Working with adolescent girls in this setting, I began to see the relationship between success on the field and my athletes' broader physical and mental health. As a coach, I learned about my players as complete individuals, and learned how social and environmental factors limited options for things as basic as healthy food and safe spaces to play.
This coach-athlete relationship is similar to what I see as an ideal physician-patient relationship, in which a patient's needs are best addressed when his or her whole story is known. MetroLacrosse builds community through a team curriculum focused on respect, instead of just helping players run laps. Similarly, successful physician-patient relationships take community and environmental factors into consideration alongside the analysis of a particular health problem. I began to see the importance of community in shaping health outcomes.
Working for NICHQ sharpened my thinking about the results of differential access to care on health outcomes. MetroLacrosse motivated me to become a physician and taught me about the importance of community factors in health outcomes, listening, and advocating for patients. Ultimately, these experiences solidified my pursuit of a career as a physician dedicated to improving health outcomes of children and families.
And then there was last month’s Boston Marathon. I was running, as I had for the past two years, to raise money for the MetroLacrosse Boston Marathon charity team. As documented by The New York Times in “A Moment from the Boston Marathon,” I was approaching the finish line when the first bomb exploded. So many lives changed that day. While I can’t say this particular experience was for me as formative as these others I’ve discussed, the experience of seeing the first responders and volunteers in action further cemented my passion for helping those in need and continues to inspire my pursuit of medical school. I feel so much pride for the way our community has taken care of each other and humbled by continuing acts of kindness. I am and will be forever grateful that myself, fellow runner Jenna Williams, and the rest of the NICHQ family watching the Marathon, were unharmed. And my thoughts and prayers are with the people most affected by the events of that day.
These experiences have given me a love for serving children and families and for improving the health of communities, and have motivated me to pursue the practice of medicine, and specifically for working and partnering with children and families in community-based medicine. I've thought at length about the importance of quality healthcare and strong community support systems, which are both essential and all too rare. I am well aware of the immense challenges inherent in improving systems of care. But my experience with NICHQ, and especially recognizing the impact of physician leadership and clinical skills, has convinced me that such work can be done. I am inspired by the great challenge, and opportunity, facing physicians in and outside of the clinical setting.