By Marie Cone LeBeaumont
My journey into the healthcare sphere started when I was fairly young. Although I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I played competitive soccer in Colorado. Playing at such a high level caused me to suffer a series of injuries, including plantar fasciitis and a severe concussion which resulted in vestibular issues, as well as surgeries, including ankle surgery to take out loose cartilage and hip surgery to repair a torn labrum. These injuries and the resulting treatment, physical therapy, and rehab, featured as prominent factors in my life from 6th grade through my senior year of high school. The concussion was the final straw for me: after battling severe headaches and having vision and balance problems, I decided to hang up my cleats. This was an extremely difficult decision because my whole identity was wrapped up in the sport.
Yet, going through this formidable experience so early in life taught me two important lessons:
- The link between patient input and positive outcomes. The first lesson was that different healthcare environments create vastly different patient experiences and outcomes. Depending on what hospital or clinic I was at, at times, my input felt valued and heard, and, at other times, I felt like just another data point augmenting the organization’s bottom line. I learned that healthcare administration is powerful, and an organization’s culture has real implications on patients’ experiences.
- The impact of barriers: access and equity. The second lesson was that barriers to care exist based on a patient’s location. Although Cheyenne, Wyoming is somewhat urban compared to other areas of Wyoming, I still had to travel to other states (namely, Colorado) to obtain care. Traveling for care showed me that in conversations of healthcare equity, rural patients must have a seat at the table.
A desire to address healthcare inequities formed my post-secondary studies
Learning these two lessons—and having to explore my identity outside of soccer—eventually led me to Dartmouth College. At Dartmouth, I studied psychology and global health. There, I became even more passionate about the intersection between the organizational level of healthcare and psychology. Specifically, I became curious about how people can be effective leaders in healthcare and how healthcare access issues and health disparities impact healthcare delivery. My passion was cemented with my work last summer when I was an administrative intern at a rural hospital in Colorado and when I worked with the Colorado Hospital Association to help conduct and report on rural clinic assessments across the state.
I decided to join AmeriCorps post-graduation from Dartmouth for several reasons. One is that I wanted to gain a better understanding of healthcare on the ground and gain an invaluable insider perspective about critical issues in U.S. healthcare and actionable steps that are being taken to address those issues. Another is that I understood the importance of experiential learning, and I recognized the inherent value in AmeriCorps and the human connections it fosters. I decided to join this particular VISTA program because ultimately, my goal is to be a CEO of a rural hospital in Colorado. I have first-hand experience with what the rural side of the equation looks like, and seeing and working in more urban areas will make me a better leader and problem solver in the healthcare landscape of Colorado.
Full circle: a daily reminder of what brought me here
As I begin my first week of work as a VISTA in Boulder, I cannot help but think that my journey has come full circle. Each day, I drive by a soccer complex—a complex that I frequently played at when I was younger. A complex that symbolizes all my injuries and experiences as a patient. A complex that prompts me to think about how organizational culture and the location of patients play essential roles in healthcare delivery and outcomes. A complex that reminds me of my journey and of my passion to improve healthcare from the inside out. I am excited to see what this VISTA year of service at Boulder County Public Health has in store, and hope that the experiences I have in the public health field will teach me and grow my passion for improving healthcare.
Marie Cone LeBeaumont is an Immunization and Outreach & Education Coordinator, on assignment with Boulder County Public Health through the CO-mmunity Corps AmeriCorps VISTA Program.
Immunize Colorado was formed in 1991 in response to alarmingly low vaccination rates across the state. At the time, only about 50% of Colorado’s children were adequately vaccinated. A group of physicians and other concerned individuals came together to strategize how to best protect Coloradans from vaccine-preventable diseases. Much work remains. You can donate or discover other ways to get involved to support our commitment to healthy Colorado communities today!