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At what age did you first realized health disparities existed?

Phillip MontgomI have lived in Hartford all of my life, and as a young boy I remember driving down Albany Avenue from downtown Hartford to West Hartford, and noticing the shift in things like improved road quality, less trash, and more attractive storefronts. At the time it seemed trivial, but as I got older I began to ask, “why?”

How could it be that two communities that are so close geographically be so different in appearance, wealth, and educational opportunities?

In the eighth grade, while volunteering at Community Health Services (CHS) in Hartford, was when I really started putting the pieces of the puzzle together about health disparities– I was thirteen years old.

At CHS I worked with Foodshare and the farmer’s market, so I became especially conscious of how food affects peoples’ health. I realized how difficult was for many people in my community to obtain healthy foods either because they cannot afford them or they do not have access to stores that sell healthy food. It was strange to think that the dramatic shift in storefronts from one town to the next, that seemed trivial before was actually major contributing factor to a community’s overall health.

There is a rather large disconnect between the national discussion about healthcare that is centered on insurance coverage, and the everyday reality of many people.

When Healthcare Reform was being worked out; the main talking point was getting insurance coverage for as many people as possible. However, the more I worked at CHS and learned about public health the more I realized that insurance coverage is just one piece in the puzzle to ending health disparities.

Not to say that health coverage is not important, but it seems that we as a country spend so much time talking about how to get people insured that we almost forget what it takes to get people access to good, quality care. In my mind, there’s a difference between having healthcare and having good health.

For example, the things I noticed that seemed to affect peoples’ health the most were:  access to food, language access, transportation, and health literacy.  At CHS, I was always astounded by the number of clients who were unaware of programs for which they were eligible. Having great programs are useless if people do not know they exist.  Clients were also unaware of their treatment options due language barriers or sometimes missed appointments because getting to CHS was an issue.

Learning about these issues, has helped me understand what kind of physician I want to become. I know now that advocacy will be a component to being an effective provider for the underserved.  It is my hope that I develop a deeper understanding of the healthcare system and ways to end disparities in health through my participation in the UCONN Health Disparities Clinical Summer Research Fellowship Program, and my time at Health Justice CT this summer.

At what age did you first realized health disparities existed?

Phillip Montgomery is a HJCT program intern and rising junior at John Hopkins University. Connect with Phillip on Twitter.

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