November 9, 2010

People's District: Dr. Randi on Finding Balance

This is the second installment in a weeklong series by one of our favorite blogs, the People's District, an oral history project featuring the people of Washington DC. This week, the People's District is publishing five stories of people from Bread for the City's community, in promotion of our Holiday Helpings campaign. Many thanks to Danny Harris for this series.

Today's story comes from our Dr. Randi!

“For me, medicine has always been a balance between helping people stay healthy and helping others manage chronic disease. I feel lucky that I have the education, skills and knowledge, and I have always wanted to help people who didn’t have those opportunities. After I did my training at Ohio State and my residency at Northwestern, I followed my husband to D.C. and did a fellowship at George Washington. I always knew that I wanted to be at a community clinic, and found Bread for the City through a woman named Eve Bargmann at GW. She brought residents here once a week and convinced me to come along one day. When I came with her, I realized that this was exactly the kind of place I wanted to work at.

“At that time, the city had a hiring freeze, so I wasn’t sure that working in a community clinic was even an option after my fellowship. While there was so much need, no one had any money and these places were struggling. When I finished my fellowship at GW, I asked the staff at Bread where should I apply for work. I knew they had a shoestring budget and probably couldn’t hire me, but thought they might have some ideas. Instead, they asked me how much I would need to make and if I could work part-time. This was back in 1991.

“One of my favorite stories that I like to tell is that they wanted me to make a two year commitment when I first took the job. My whole life had been committed between school, medical school, residency, and fellowship. I didn’t want any more commitment because I didn’t really like D.C. and wanted to be free to leave when I wanted. Well, as you can see, 19 years later, I am still here, and I still love what I do.

“Working here has made me a part of this community. I love walking here from the subway and seeing all of my clients on the street. I think that it is very meaningful to people that I am still here after 19 years and I didn’t give up on them. People constantly say to me, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that you are still here!’ For me, I stay because I love seeing patients. The ability to help people everyday makes all of this worthwhile to me. And working with the students and volunteers helps them put a face on poverty and to the issues that they read about every day.

“The health care that I do here involves a lot of time educating patients on their medical and nutritional choices in a non-judgmental way. It is up to the patient whether they take medicine or not, or if they eat healthy or not, but I want to be supportive and make sure that people have the information they need to make their own decisions. Many people here eat the foods that are easily available, even if it is unhealthy. I also think there is an eating disorder that comes with the stress of poverty, feeding your emotions. When people are stressed and feel like nothing is going their way, they look to things they can control, like eating. You may be poor, but you can still eat a cheeseburger and french fries when you want. Because of these dietary issues, I see lots of cases of depression, hypertension, arthritis, and diabetes with my clients.

“Some of my clients are very concrete. You will tell a diabetic that they should not be eating waffles with syrup and butter every morning. They will come back and say, ‘I didn’t have waffles today because I switched to pancakes with syrup and butter.’ Many of them don’t make the connection that they are the same thing. I think that people are eager to learn though, but making behavior changes remains difficult, especially if people grew up with poor eating habits.

“At Bread for the City, we have been working to make proper nutrition an important part of our work. Until a few years ago, we would host food drives and give out anything that people gave us. Even if we received donations of candy and cookies, we would use that to supplement the food bags. After some time and a lot of conversation, we realized that we needed to model good behavior and pass out food that was healthy and made sense. We now have a nutrition consultant on staff to help advise the food program, and are giving out fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. While we have made progress in terms of our work and the food we pass out, it is always amazing to me how much work remains to be done."

Support that work by making a gift to Holiday Helpings today! Just $29 will provide a healthful, plentiful holiday meal to a family of four.

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