About a year and a half ago, I quit my behind-the-desk health communications job and started getting my hands dirty communicating about health from the trenches.
It started with a trip to Thailand where I spent two weeks volunteering at a halfway house in Chiang Mai to help communicate the stories of women who were either receiving treatment at the medical center or were exposed to the sex industry in some capacity. My mission was to help the home build its website, which would serve as a way to communicate the importance of the house so it could raise the funds to sustain the organization.
As I toured the facility where sick people and girls with known STDs ate, slept, and bathed in my bare feet; toured the local hospital and declined a mask; and ate at an alley turned restaurant, I caught myself thinking “What kind of public health professional am I? Why am I so oblivious to my own health in a place where the risk of disease is so much higher?”
I didn’t have an answer.
When I returned home, I started volunteering with hospice care patients to provide companionship and help them reflect on their lives in their final moments. My first patient was a 92-year-old priest who taught me so much about life, dying with dignity, and the shortcomings of nursing homes in our six short months together.
When I tell people I volunteer with those who have been given an expiration date, they always ask how I do it?
I don’t have answer.
When I stopped to reflect on the answer to these questions, it became clear to me: health communication isn’t about you.
My job is and always has been to use the right words, images, and channels to communicate health-related information to help someone else make an informed decision about their health, change their behavior, communicate their story, or raise money for a cause.
But when I was behind a desk, health communication was more about us—the health communicators. I’m not going to pretend that some of the projects I worked on were free of selfish motives from various contributors, because they weren’t. There was always someone trying to use a project to advance his or her own agenda.
This is part of the reason that I got out from behind the desk and out into the world again.
And when I did, it was easy to forget about myself in the aforementioned situations because they weren’t about me; they were about the people in front of me and what they needed from me.
While I’m not encouraging you to quit your day job, I am encouraging you to get out there and get your hands dirty from time to time to help you reconnect with the field and remind yourself that this is a selfless line of work to which you’ve dedicated your life.
In a previous life, Samantha Post worked at a health communications firm in the Washington, D.C., area. There, she sat at the intersection of research and development, as she translated scientific research into digital products to facilitate behavior change and helped to push forward a health branding initiative. Samantha happily traded in her desk job to work for her family’s business and to pursue her passion for health by volunteering and communicating her stories via her website to help her and others live a more fulfilling life.