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Biology alumna makes an impact through Health Outreach Baltimore

Each year, the Natural and Applied Sciences academic division awards the Choudhury Sarkar-Dey medal to an outstanding graduating senior who has shown remarkable commitment to diversity and community service during their time at Loyola.  We are proud to share with you the reflections submitted by the 2021 finalists, nominated by their faculty and departments, in this series of posts. 

Reflection from Loyola biology major Brunilda Neufeld, '21, Heath Outreach Baltimore community advocate and student leader

By Brunilda Neufeld, '21, Biology major, 2021 Choudhury Sarkar-Dey Medalist

From the moment I stepped onto Loyola’s beautiful evergreen campus, I felt right at home. I was drawn to the charismatic student body, the devoted faculty, and the university’s mission of creating well-rounded individuals with a passion for service and social justice. And yet, what most solidified my desire to come to Loyola was visiting Baltimore and immersing myself in the community. I vividly remember driving through downtown Baltimore for the first time and noting the drastic differences in neighborhoods from one block to the next. I remember driving past Mercy Medical Center and Healthcare for the Homeless and thinking, “I can see myself volunteering there one day. I feel like I can really make a difference here.” 

Brunilda Neufeld, '21, Choudhury Sarkar-Dey medal recipientMy ultimate goal in life has always been to make an impact on the world, revolutionize it, and make it a more equitable, loving, and inspiring place. As a member of both the Loyola and Baltimore communities, I knew I could start making small steps to do just that. Over the past four years, I have come to recognize that the true beauty of being a student at Loyola University Maryland is having not only the privilege of becoming a member of the Loyola community but also having the privilege of becoming a part of the diverse Baltimore community. And what a privilege it has been these past four years!   

Over the past four years, I strived to become an active member of both communities and gained many memorable experiences along the way as a result. As a first-year student, I became an Outdoor Adventure Experience leader, guiding students and faculty on backpacking, paddle boarding, and caving trips. As a leader, nothing made me smile as much as having students recognize me on campus and express how much they enjoyed my trips. As a sophomore, I became the Social Media Coordinator for the Loyola Maryland Student Chapter for Doctors Without Borders. As a board member, I facilitated discussions on medical ethics, humanitarian aid, and healthcare. I was able to engage with club members through social media posts and mentor younger club members. 

Without a doubt, however, the most impactful experience of my undergraduate career has been my work with Health Outreach Baltimore as both an advocate and, more recently, as the Resource Team Coordinator. As a first-year student, I became an advocate and had the privilege of working with patients at Mercy Medical Center, learning about their unique life circumstances, and connecting them to community resources. Over the next three years, I worked in multiple units at Mercy, including the Emergency Department, the Mother-Baby Unit, and the Family Care Physicians Unit. I gained an understanding of the difficulties families faced in acquiring resources such as employment, GED programs, SNAP, WIC, government subsidies, etc., and worked with my clients to acquire these resources. I also realized that healthcare was becoming much more fast-paced and, as a result, sometimes patients felt they weren’t heard. By taking the time to listen to my clients, meeting them where they were, and accepting them, I could begin to change that.

One of my first and most memorable clients was an elderly woman named Ester who lived alone with only her dog as company. Over several weeks Ester and I developed a strong friendship. We shared stories from our lives and cracked jokes. She never forgot to impart a bit of her “aging wisdom,” as she called it, with me each week. I always looked forward to our chats and will never forget one of the last conversations we had. “You know young lady, I really do appreciate you calling. It is so lonely out here, sometimes just talking to you brings such a big smile to my face that I instantly feel better.”

The spring semester of my Junior year brought new challenges. We were sent home in the middle of a pandemic, and life itself was seemingly turned upside down. I was heartbroken that I was being forced to leave Loyola in such a rush. I wondered how long I would be away. I worried about maintaining friendships, the rocky transition to online classes, and leaving a community that I had grown to love so much. One week turned into months, and months turned into an entire semester. Nonetheless, I was determined to make the best out of a not-so-ideal situation.

In the fall of my senior year, I became the Resource Team coordinator and began working remotely with a team of advocates to research new resources and keep our old resources up to date. Over weekly zoom meetings, we discussed how we, as a team, could go one step further and truly live out Health Outreach Baltimore’s mission of going “Beyond the Scope.” A few weeks into the online semester, a group of physicians from Mercy Medical Center and residents from the University of Maryland reached out to Health Outreach Baltimore. The physicians saw an increase in patients without jobs, insurance, or the ability to put food on the table for their families, all as a result of the pandemic. The physicians desperately wanted to do more but were unfamiliar with social, supportive resources in the Baltimore city area and were unaware of how to connect their patients to these resources. 

My team and I took on this new challenge, and, over several months, with help from both our program faculty advisor Dr. Maiju Lehmijoki Wetzel and Ms. Jennifer Sullivan, we created a provider-facing website that we modeled after our own Health Outreach Baltimore resource website. Each team member was given a specific resource to research and add to the website. Together we discussed what resources we used to most as advocates and which resources we had had the most success with. When completed, the website included quick links, phone numbers, addresses, and other pertinent information about food, education, employment, and childcare resources. The website could be easily accessed by the physicians via a computer, tablet, or smartphone. It was a great success for both Health Outreach Baltimore and the physicians at Mercy Medical Center. The feedback we received is that the website made physicians feel better informed and more capable when approached by patients in need of resources. 

My experiences at Loyola and, in particular, my experiences as a Health Outreach Baltimore advocate have shaped my understanding of what strong communities look like and feel like. These communities have shaped me into the strong-willed, passionate woman I am today, and into the devoted and compassionate physician, I hope to one day become. Baltimore will always be a home away from home for me, and I am thankful I have been able to give back to a community that has given me so much.