Since 1999 the GSSWSR has participated in the “Bridging the Gaps” Community Health Internship Program (CHIP). The seven week program links the training of health and social service professionals with the provision of services to underserved communities. In addition to the field assignments, students meet weekly with their academic preceptors and participate in weekly training sessions where community members and health professionals help them build skills in working with diverse populations.
The five Philadelphia academic health centers: Drexel University, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Temple University, Thomas Jefferson University, and the University of Pennsylvania, are the collaborative partners whose students from the disciplines of medicine, nursing, dentistry, occupational health and social work are assigned to a diverse range of community sites. Bryn Mawr students are participants in the Thomas Jefferson University group.
It is hard to believe that seven weeks have come and gone and my experience with Bridging the Gaps has come to an end. It feels like it was just yesterday that I was trying to explain to family and friends what I would be doing this summer. And at that point, I didn’t have a clear answer to give besides stating that my placement was at Philadelphia FIGHT.
FIGHT offers multiple services including medical, counseling, prison, education and outreach. During my short time at FIGHT I have been fortunate to work with every single program in some capacity, and in the process I have gotten to know staff from all over the building at 12th and Locust. Seeing employees with such vigilance and passion has been an honor.
Along with getting to know staff members at FIGHT, I was given the rare opportunity to work directly with student interns from other disciplines. Before this experience at FIGHT I never thought I would have much in common with dental and medical students. I have been proven wrong. The four of us all brought something different to the table and we became fast friends.
Much of the work we did involved gathering data about how patients and clients felt about services they receive at FIGHT. That data was gathered by several different methods, including phone interviews and formal and informal interviews. I was surprised that barely any constructive criticism was given. In fact, more than once a client became tearful and explained that FIGHT saved their life. There was a constant sincerity that I was able to witness when I spoke with individuals about their involvement with FIGHT.
A very memorable experience I had while at FIGHT was shadowing two peer educators while they presented at New Directions, an organization that provides residential services as an alternative to incarceration for female offenders from Philadelphia County prisons who are eligible for early release. Not only did I learn a thing or two about HIV/AIDS, but I also got to see firsthand the way in which two women living with the virus could advocate and inform others in such a relaxed and amazing way. One of the women had been living with the virus since the mid 80s, and from spending time in the AIDS library at FIGHT in the beginning of my internship acclimating myself and reading about the history of AIDS, I know that surviving the 80s and 90s without the medications and treatments available today is no small feat. This woman had such resilience and poise and I will forever keep her story with me.
That’s the thing about FIGHT, when I look back on every situation that really made me feel connected and part of something important, what comes to mind are all of the times I just listened to people share their stories. One of those instances involved sitting in on TEACH Recovery, a meeting facilitated by one peer educator and one social worker that uses the harm reduction model and meets twice a week for clients suffering from substance abuse and living with HIV/AIDS. My involvement during the meetings was purely observational, however the experience will remain with me. One client at FIGHT shared how she was going to see her granddaughter for the first time in seven years. Her daughter finally allowed them to have contact after she had remained drug-free for nine months. As she was talking about her plans for a park date and all of the belated birthday gifts she had ready for her granddaughter tears were flowing down her cheeks. I could see what a monumental step reuniting with her family was in her recovery and the support and excitement she received from the group was amazing. It was beautiful to watch.
That’s the thing about my internship experience at FIGHT, I feel as though I gained so much education and knowledge about HIV/AIDS, and people in general, that it is hard to measure what exactly I gave back. I know that there was an eagerness and excitement that all of us Bridging the Gaps interns had to be productive in the short time we were at the agency, and it did feel nice to be able to finish our long-term tasks prior to our last day.
One project in particular will have long-lasting effects for FIGHT. We put together a new board entitled the Committee on the Evaluation of Client Services. We were involved in everything from choosing the title, to gathering nominations from directors of each program, to interviewing the nominations, to confirming acceptance. On the last day of our placement we were able to send a completed list of over 20 members to Jane Shull, the Executive Director of FIGHT. The first Committee meeting will be held in September.
Another project that one other intern and myself worked on was interviewing for TEACH Outside, a five week intensive educational course offered to anyone who has been incarcerated and is living with HIV/AIDS. We conducted half hour pre-TEACH interviews to access behaviors and HIV/AIDS educational levels prior to the client taking the course. The assessments will aid FIGHT in gathering research and potential future funding. Being able to sit down with ex-offenders and ask such personal questions about their experience with HIV/AIDS related stigma and knowledge of the virus was a very rare opportunity.
Overall, FIGHT staff were very welcoming to the Bridging the Gaps interns. A recommendation for FIGHT regarding future interns would be to set aside a space where interns could work on a daily basis. A lot of time was spent being shuffled around from computer to computer because we were always in someone’s way. I realize that every agency is under strict budgets and having a computer just may not be applicable, but having a separate space would be highly beneficial. Another suggestion would be to have more projects already thought about prior to the interns starting. We ended up having some great long-term projects to work on, but it seemed that the process wasn’t very organized. Perhaps that is just an overall consequence of a non-profit agency. The good definitely outweighed any negative experiences at FIGHT and I would surely recommend Bridging the Gaps to continue to using FIGHT as a site placement.
Part of my time with Bridging the Gaps was spent in the weekly Wednesday seminars and afternoon small groups. I was pleasantly surprised by my enjoyment of the speakers that Bridging the Gaps organized for each week. I was able to learn more about services in Philadelphia, some of which I had known a little about, while others were completely new to me. My favorite by far was hearing more about the Mural Arts Program. I have always enjoyed walking around my neighborhood and admiring the murals on the sides of buildings that over the past two years have simply become part of my consciousness. However, I had no idea how much collaboration and thought went into each mural even before they are produced. Some of the stories that the speaker shared were extremely touching and emotional. The staff at Bridging the Gaps did a great job with selecting charismatic and interesting speakers.
The afternoon group that I was paired with was run by two friendly and knowledgeable professionals. They did a great job facilitating us and ensuring we ended with a finished workshop to present at the symposium. Working with such a large group of interns to put something together was an interesting process, but we were all respectful of each other and I was happy with how smoothly the overall process went.
I cannot think of a better way to have spent my summer in-between my first and second year of graduate school. I was able to be surrounded by interesting interns and professionals and learn about an amazing agency. I know without a doubt that the professional relationships and personal friendships I have made will continue to serve me in my future.
This summer I was lucky enough to participate in the Bridging the Gaps Internship program. This was an amazing opportunity and learning experience. Through my Bridging the Gaps experience, I not only gained useful work experience, but I also got to collaborate with professionals and students from a variety of backgrounds. I was given the opportunity to learn about health care issues which, as a social work student, I do not always get to focus on and I was able to grow in a way that I know will make me a better social worker.
The Bridging the Gaps Internship Program (BTG) matches students from a variety of health care and social service fields with various nonprofits in the Philadelphia area. Interns come from a variety of health related and social service fields, which allows students to share their unique viewpoints with their clients and with one another. In addition to the work the interns do at their placement, the BTG program has weekly seminars on a variety of health related topics. Interns also meet weekly in small groups to create a workshop for the Fall BTG Symposium.
I was paired with a nursing student from Jefferson College and we were placed at Mercy Hospice, which is a residential facility for women and children in center city Philadelphia. Mercy Hospice serves women who do not have permanent housing and are in substance abuse recovery. Last year, Mercy Hospice served 65 women and 17 children, and provided a wide array of social services including the provision of food and shelter, case management, parenting education, and life skills classes. In addition to these services, Mercy provides daily services to local women without homes or women living in nearby shelters.
When we arrived at Mercy we were told that the organization would like us to focus on planning and facilitating as many activities as possible with the residents. The nursing student with whom I was partnered and I structured a summer program that focused on healthy living. We wanted to not only support the work that the women were doing in their recovery process, but also teach them how to have fun in a healthy way. We conducted weekly groups that focused on job readiness, healthy diets, recovery, and health education. We incorporated physical activity into our program by offering weekly walking and yoga groups. We wanted to help the women have fun in a way that supported their recovery so we also conducted manicure days, spa nights, movie nights, and various field trips.
The Bridging the Gaps program was an amazing learning opportunity. Because of the flexibility of our program, I really got to know the women who I served. On a daily basis I was blown away by how open the women were about their struggles and how graciously they shared their wisdom with me. Through my internship, I learned more about substance abuse and recovery than I could have ever learned in a classroom. Being partnered with a nursing student, and getting to collaborate with students from so many different backgrounds during our weekly seminars, was also an amazing learning opportunity. Through my work experience thus far I have seen how useful it can be to join forces with professionals from other disciplines, and my Bridging the Gaps experience reinforced this. As social workers, part of our job is to look at the whole person. Being familiar with health and medical terms along with understanding how other professions/ systems work make us stronger social workers and allows us to serve our clients better. The Bridging the Gaps program also allowed me to educate my peers, about the field of social work.
As I reflect on my Bridging the Gaps experience, I know I will continue to learn and grow from it. I not only learned useful facts and information, but this experience also gave me the chance to look at the people I serve from a fresh perspective. I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn and grow both professionally and personally. I can say, without a doubt, that Bridging the Gaps has made me a more well-rounded, competent social worker and I am looking forward to taking what I learned through this experience with me as I move forward in this field.