Luke Sheppard sits on a rock on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

CCPA Summer Series 2022: Petaluma Health Center

By Luke Sheppard ’24

Funding Source: Liberal Arts in the Workplace Grant

My internship in Petaluma, California was an enlightening and challenging experience. In many ways, the opportunity to work in person across the country was a benefit of the declining pandemic, but I also saw the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 in the workplace. I had the pleasure of interning with the Petaluma Health Center. They are a FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Center), which means they primarily treat low-income and uninsured patients. I had the opportunity to work with their director of communications and community outreach. This role allowed me to gain a broad understanding of the clinic and the community.

Getting an inside look at Petaluma Health Center was the perfect fit after my spring semester Anthropology class Radical Medicine. For my final project for the class, I investigated the work of Philadelphia FIGHT, an FQHC not far from Haverford. While the two clinics shared many similarities in their healthcare strategies, like their objective to deliver equitable care, I saw how that goal changes according to the community you’re serving. I was appreciative to interact with and learn much about the large Latinx community in Sonoma County surrounding Petaluma. The center in Petaluma largely serves those who speak Spanish as their first language and many who do not know English. This was important to my role, as I helped identify aspects of the website and communication portal that did not have Spanish options. Unfortunately, I could not translate the pages myself as I am just beginning to learn Spanish. After passing on the information to someone who could translate, I quickly saw how the chain of command can make an easy fix into a lengthy process.

The effects of COVID-19 have certainly changed how collaboration is accomplished. I spent time in an office separate from the health clinic. While the clinic was lively and busy, the office had only partially come back to life since the pandemic. Many offices were empty, as those working administrative roles chose to continue working from home. When I got the chance to help write a press release and an op-ed for Petaluma, the editing process was difficult because it required remote coordination. Yet, I did also find enjoyment in the freedom provided by this flexibility. I took the chance to work some days from home, at public libraries, in parks, or at local cafes.

I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to write, something I enjoy at Haverford as well. I was able to contribute to an op-ed released by the clinic urging the nearby Sonoma State University to hire someone from the Latinx community as their next school president. Through the process of researching, I learned a lot about the public university system in California and also the underrepresentation of Latinx people in higher education.  I was tasked to think critically about equity in healthcare and education. Similarly, Petaluma offers a number of services aimed at uplifting their community whether that be from illness, social ailments, or poverty. The organization of providers allows a team approach that holds genuine care for their patients.

While I was there, Petaluma was experiencing another growth spurt as it expanded its care capacity. I helped write press releases to alert Petaluma patients of the addition of pediatric services, acupuncture, and eye care services available by the clinic. Through this process, I was also able to practice another interest of mine by photographing these new services. I got a chance to visit the new optometry and acupuncture offices. This allowed me another chance to interact with patients and providers in an authentic way. I enjoyed connecting with the acupuncturist and hearing the positive experience of her patients. Adopting eastern medicine practices is one way Petaluma is expanding its idea of care.

At the conclusion of my internship, I definitely took away that nontraditional healthcare can be effective, especially when caring for underserved communities often let down by traditional institutions. My time in Petaluma offered me a chance to learn firsthand. It was challenging to leave my comfort zone, like talking to many new people and attempting professional photography for the first time, but I am so thankful for my time in Petaluma, CA and grateful the CCPA funding allowed me such an experience.