February 3, 2022

Volunteer Spotlight: Gabriela Betancourt, 2021 Medical Student Volunteer of the Year

Gabriela Betancourt, a student a University of Chicago and our 2021 Medical Student Volunteer of the Year

Kicking off this year’s Volunteer Spotlight series is the fabulous Gabriela Betancourt! Gabriela hails from Central Wisconsin and currently attends University of Chicago. She joined CommunityHealth in September of 2020, back when our volunteer program was virtual. Gabriela has been with us throughout our vaccine distribution campaign, and was honored as the CommunityHealth 2021 Medical Student Volunteer of the Year. Read on to learn more about her!

In a few sentences, tell us more about yourself and your background!

I grew up in Central Wisconsin and went to the University of Wisconsin Madison to study biomedical engineering. I thought I was going to be a scientist, but I ended up volunteering at a hospice and falling in love with medicine through my interactions with patients and their families. I applied to medical schools in Chicago with my eye on volunteering at CommunityHealth – I had worked at a similar clinic in Madison and knew I wanted to experience those clinics from the perspective of medical student. I feel very lucky to be here and to have the opportunity to volunteer with CommunityHealth.

Is there a specific area of healthcare you are interested in or healthcare experiences you are seeking?

I’m interested in almost everything at this point! At the top of my list are Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Ob-Gyn, and weirdly enough, Pathology. I would like to work at a community-based clinic like CHC someday and would enjoy the opportunity to teach medical trainees at some point in my career.

If you could have any superpower, which would you choose?

Teleportation. Then I could work in Chicago, visit my sister and nieces in Seattle for dinner, stop by my parents’ house in Wisconsin or my extended family in Puerto Rico, and sleep in my own bed in the same day.

Outside of volunteering with CommunityHealth, how do you like to spend your free time?

I like spending time with my family, trying new restaurants, starting projects then leaving them unfinished for months, knitting, playing video games, and reading.

What’s your favorite book or movie?

My favorite book that I have read recently is Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. I love Disney movies and am currently a big fan of Encanto.

What is something that not a lot of people know about you?

Even though I’m very chatty and enjoy talking to people, I am actually an introvert.

If you could be one animal, what would you be and why?

An indoor cat. Medical school has had me feeling tired lately so curling up in a sunbeam for a nap sounds lovely.

Why and how did you begin volunteering at CommunityHealth?

The opportunity to volunteer at CommunityHealth was a big factor in my decision to go to the University of Chicago for medical school. As soon as I arrived here, I connected with med students who had volunteered at the CHC in the past and they guided me through the process of becoming a volunteer.

Do you remember your first day? What surprised you?

My first day at CommunityHealth was not how I envisioned it would be at all. I started in September of 2020, so we were completely virtual. My first time volunteering in-person for CommunityHealth was during one of the mass vaccination events, and it was one of the most hopeful and joyful experiences of my life.

What is something you’ve learned from volunteering at CommunityHealth?

At CommunityHealth, I have learned that sometimes what can be most helpful to the patient is taking time to listen to, validate, and ask questions about their experiences. When attending medical school at an academic center that sees high acuity cases, it can be easy to forget that preventative health and patient education are the best ways to improve the health of the overall population. At CommunityHealth, you are given the time to learn from patients and celebrate small steps that people and the community take to improve their health, which is a very hopeful and motivating experience.

What has been your biggest takeaway from your time with CommunityHealth, and how does this impact your other life or career goals?

My experience at CommunityHealth has helped me establish the patient and community as the center of my practice from very early in my medical education. It can be easy to lose sight of why you came into medicine when you are studying the fundamentals because the basic sciences are often many steps removed from learning how to care for a patient. Volunteering at CommunityHealth has helped center me and remind me of the most important skills a doctor needs to build – careful listening, compassionate communication, and team-focused problem solving.

How has working with CommunityHealth influenced your perception of healthcare?

Working at CommunityHealth has given me insight into the importance of preventative care, and how the healthcare system in the United States could be so much more patient centered and less expensive if we prioritized and invested in preventative health. Seeing patients in the acute care setting can be demoralizing when you are witnessing how the healthcare system has failed an individual so chronically that they are in the end stages of a preventable condition. Volunteering with CommunityHealth has helped me understand that I should be an advocate for preventative medicine throughout my career as a physician.

What advice would you give to a new volunteer at CommunityHealth?

Ask for help and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know how to do something. Every single person I have encountered at CommunityHealth has been so helpful and non-judgmental – they know we all have things to learn and they are committed to improving care for patients and will always be happy to help.

We feel so lucky to have Gabriela as a member of our team. Thank you for the incredible care that you provide our patients, Gabriela!