November 22, 2023
After graduating from Portland State University in 2022 with a degree in public health promotion, Samuel Miller wanted to use his education to make a difference in his community. He began exploring opportunities in Portland, Oregon and was intrigued by service programs, such as AmeriCorps and various internships that would give him the hands-on experience he had hoped for during his time in college; but wasn’t able to obtain at the time due to COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.
Scrolling through LinkedIn, he found what he was looking for in OCHIN’s Public Health AmeriCorps program. Following his acceptance to the program in 2023, Miller began training to become a community health worker through OCHIN+, OCHIN’s workforce development portfolio. He has since been serving in that capacity at the National University of Natural Medicine Health Centers (NUNM) through OCHIN’s national partnership with Public Health AmeriCorps.
“I feel a great amount of gratitude to be able to make a direct impact on the lives of those that need it most within the clinic,” Miller said. “This has truly been a position where I feel like I am servicing my community and making a difference.”
Supporting whole patient health and well-being
Nestled within the oldest accredited naturopathic medical university in North America, OCHIN member NUNM offers a full spectrum of integrative primary care and natural health care services in Portland. They incorporate naturopathic and classic Chinese medicine to meet the unique needs of their patients and are committed to providing high-quality, patient-centered and connected care through close coordination of their clinical and care teams.
“NUNM is pleased to be a host site for this OCHIN/AmeriCorps program,” said Nora Sande, MBA, CASP, vice president for health centers and auxiliary operations at NUNM. “Having a community health worker intern through this program is a win-win for all involved, expanding our ability to care for patients and creating learning opportunities for the intern. Mr. Miller is a wonderful addition to our team and makes a meaningful contribution to the health and well-being of our patients every day.”
Research indicates a strong connection between our physical health and social risk factors, such as food insecurity, housing instability, or lack of transportation. Community health workers like Miller play a pivotal role in mitigating the negative health effects of social risk, by advocating on behalf of patients and their families and facilitating timely access to community resources. Day to day, he works to understand the full picture of patients’ needs and liaises with local agencies and community organizations to help connect them with essentials, like housing, food, or insurance assistance.
Miller credits his OCHIN+ training with giving him the skills to support whole patient care for his community.
“I am able to work towards better outcomes in health that are strongly influenced by social and environmental factors,” said Miller. “Having someone looking into social contexts of disease and health creates a more complete approach to care that I get to be a large part of.”
Shaping the workforce of the future
OCHIN received funding in 2022 from Public Health AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to train learners looking for a career in health care to serve in roles that meet critical operational needs and help expand access to care. Additional funding to scale the program was awarded in 2023 and successful learners continue to be placed at OCHIN member sites in Oregon, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, North Carolina, and Massachusetts.
OCHIN AmeriCorps learners choose one of two tracks with OCHIN+: community health work, which focuses on advocating on behalf of patients and is the path Miller chose, or clinical data and quality analytics, which trains learners to provide specialized database management insights.
The program increases opportunities for people, like Miller, who want to advance their health care careers through technical training and mentorship, while also developing new resources to help rebuild the health care workforce in the wake of COVID-19.
“I have been able to advance my interpersonal skills by coordinating care for patients with providers and other skilled workers at NUNM,” Miller said. “I have also gained a lot of confidence in working in conjunction with doctors, students, and other health care professionals at NUNM—a level of confidence I feel will transfer well to future endeavors in my career.”
Advice for other program participants
Though Miller says the program requires hard work and patience, he values the partnership between OCHIN, AmeriCorps, and NUNM that has provided the opportunity to help his community while working with people who encourage his career success.
“I have gained invaluable mentorship from both my instructors at OCHIN as well as folks in the clinic and University at NUNM,” Miller said. “Working with patients as a liaison to community resources has increased my capacity for work, organizational skills, and knowledge about the social determinants of health.”
“The training and experience sets a great foundation for those looking to break into the fields of community health, social work, and health care in general. It is also very valuable and rewarding to be able to provide these services in any health care setting that does not have them.”
For more information about OCHIN+’s partnership with Public Health AmeriCorps or to apply, visit the OCHIN+ website.
This material is based upon work supported by AmeriCorps under Grant No 22NDIOR001. Opinions or points of view expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of, or a position that is endorsed by, AmeriCorps.