When I entered the Johnson Service Corps in 2017, I knew what my occupational calling was: to be a physician assistant. I had applied to several schools and was awaiting interview dates when I arrived for my JSC year; just a few weeks in, I was accepted to PA school, which would start in August of the following year. More than three years later, I have begun the work of that calling. As I reflect on what has prepared me the most for my career, JSC stands resolutely in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, the anatomy, physiology, learning modules, and clinical rotations prepared me to do the work of being a healthcare provider. But, JSC significantly impacted how I interact with myself, with others, and with the world around me through a year of lessons in servant leadership. My time in JSC allowed me to take a step back and discern what kind of person and healthcare provider I was going to be. Yes, of course, the details of diagnosing and treating disease are crucial to my success as a PA, but all of that means nothing if it does not have a strong foundation. For me, that foundation is largely grounded in the three main pillars of servant leadership: communion, compassion, and collaboration.
Communion was perhaps the only pillar that I had not given serious thought to before my time in JSC, and it is still the pillar that I struggle to incorporate into my daily life. I entered to learn about outward service, yet the very first pillar was about my spirituality and personal relationship with God. Doesn’t it seem selfish to focus on oneself when we were all there to focus on others? And yet, as I experimented with spiritual disciplines and began to nurture my soul daily, I noticed a distinct change in how I interacted with the world around me. It’s difficult to explain, but I was more energized, more understanding, and more refreshed each passing day. By focusing inward, including on my fears, insecurities, and hesitancies, it became easier to focus on the outward. Nurturing my spiritual health and relationship with God freed up so much space in my mind that I otherwise would have never noticed was missing. In a line of work that requires so much from me and often makes the claim that time for oneself is selfish and unnecessary, this pillar is one that I often have to revisit. I must remind myself that rest and spiritual discipline is a necessary piece of being a servant leader and an effective provider for others.
My lessons in compassion came largely from living in intentional community with my housemates. Compassion is so much more than kindness and “being nice”; it is about true relationship, respect, and accountability which all stem first and foremost from love. From the beginning of our time together, we were intentional about cultivating a compassionate community in our home. How? While writing our community covenant, we prioritized naming our needs for a home to feel safe, secure, and comfortable. Compassion began with a simple recognition of needs, understanding that other’s needs may be different than our own, and choosing to honor those needs in our home. As I’ve moved on from my year in JSC and into the realm of medicine, this is perhaps the pillar I rely on the most. Medicine requires that we meet a wide range of individuals, from a wide range of backgrounds, with a wide range of needs. Compassionate medicine asks first and foremost what a person’s needs are: physically, mentally, and spiritually. Compassionate medicine provides an individual, needs-based care approach rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. When I have felt particularly lost or inadequate in my medical education, I have found that focusing on providing compassionate care has never steered me in the wrong direction.
Collaboration was perhaps best reflected in my experience with my partner organization: Club Nova, a psychosocial rehabilitation program for adults with severe mental illness. The clubhouse model required a collaborative approach among its members and staff every single day. We constantly worked together to prepare meals, sort and sell merchandise in the thrift store, plan events, and manage membership and finances. None of this would be possible if an individual approach was taken; we needed each other to create a safe, enriching, and welcoming space for all. I had never been a part of something that required so much collaboration between all of its parts, including those being served. And then I entered healthcare. True, individuals can provide excellent care, but effective, sustainable healthcare requires collaboration on the part of the physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, nurse, respiratory therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, pharmacist, dietician, cafeteria staff, custodial staff, and most importantly, the patient. Collaboration is an essential pillar that I rely on every single day to provide the best care for each, individual person I serve.
I’ve always liked to think of the pillars of servant leadership building upon and strengthening each other. Without communion in God, it is difficult to manifest true compassion not only for yourself, but for others. And without a strong foundation in either communion or compassion, collaboration can be an elusive pillar to find; if you’re ungrounded and unable to establish compassionate relationships, how can you collaborate effectively? These three pillars were instrumental during my time in JSC, and they have continued to build upon each other in the years I have been away. The principles of servant leadership were transformative for me both personally and professionally. I entered PA school as soon as my JSC year ended, strong in my faith, strong in my convictions, and strong in my calling. Now, I have entered the healthcare workforce with that same strength, grounded in a strong foundation.