As part of our summer newsletter, we interviewed AFFORDABLE volunteer Carissa Kwan, a current undergraduate student at The University of Maryland. We wanted to learn and share more information about her experiences and what drives her to learn more about the healthcare system to improve community healthcare. Check out what she had to say about AFFORDABLE!

Carissa Kwan

1) What was your background prior to joining AFFORDABLE?
Prior to joining AFFORDABLE, I had received my BS in Public Health Science at the University of Maryland, College Park and was working as a medical scribe at a local urology office. By the time I joined, I was also in the process of taking graduate level courses and applying to Epidemiology MPH programs.

2) How long have you been with AFFORDABLE, and why did you decide to volunteer for this organization?

I joined AFFORDABLE in March 2019 and was intrigued by the organization’s mission of improving access to healthcare services for marginalized populations. I am passionate about topics related to maternal health and sexual/reproductive health, and I believe AFFORDABLE’s online application is the perfect tool for helping populations who may be hesitant about reaching out for in-person help due to the negative social stigma associated with their condition. 

3) What were your contributions to AFFORDABLE? Why did you focus on that issue?
As a public health research analyst, I am responsible for consolidating and synthesizing current research on select populations in order to determine the amount of resources AFFORDABLE should dedicate to each community. For my first project, I decided to focus on maternal health and pregnancy due to my personal interests as well as the current plight of pregnant American women. The United States has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality and healthcare costs amongst developed countries. These two factors combined make peripartum women one of the most disadvantaged populations in the United States. 

4) How do you enjoy working with the AFFORDABLE team? Are there any shoutouts you would like to give to current/previous members? 

I am impressed with the wide variety of talents and interests brought in by all of our team members as well as the many unique ideas they bring to the table. Since I do not get the chance to interact with most of the team members on a regular basis, I always enjoy hearing about their accomplishments during our biweekly meetings. In particular, I would like to give shoutouts to Alex and Takako. Alex is one of our founders and has been my mentor throughout my time at AFFORDABLE. I am thankful for his patience and expertise when advising me on my academic writing. Takako is a former public relations manager and software developer for AFFORDABLE. She was the member who introduced me to AFFORDABLE and helped guide me through the workings of the team during my first several weeks.

5) What was it like working with Alex and Sean? 
As mentioned above, Alex is my mentor in AFFORDABLE. At first it seemed intimidating to talk to him because of his extensive credentials, however I have found that he is actually very approachable and is always willing to help out however he can, whether that relates to schedule conflicts or project feedback. My interactions with Sean has been minimal since we are a part of different project groups. However, the few interactions I have had with him have been very positive and encouraging. Both Alex and Sean are people who are very enthusiastic about their work and never hesitate to pass on that enthusiasm. 

6) What is something you have learned in the process of volunteering for AFFORDABLE?
In addition to the knowledge I gained from doing my research for AFFORDABLE, I have also gained insight on how a team organizes and delegates it’s necessary tasks. Although I have worked on many other teams before, it was still eye opening to be exposed to a different way of project management. For example, the AFFORDABLE team introduced me to Trello and how it can be used to keep track of all the tasks needed to be done as well as noting down their assigned members and progress.

7) What does AFFORDABLE mean to you/ how do you see AFFORDABLE being used to improve healthcare?
I believe AFFORDABLE’s mission is extremely important as a grassroots approach for helping community members get access to any medical financial assistance they may need. Oftentimes, existing financial assistance programs do not fully filter down to the appropriate populations no matter how well they are designed. AFFORDABLE’s online application will help patients gain access to all of the aid they may be eligible for and help them apply to all of their options in one easy process. Currently, the team is still working on making the application live. However, I envision that AFFORDABLE will continue to develop their tools in order to expand and improve their services. Perhaps the online portal will grow to include other related services such as a hotline for users to contact for assistance, such as translations, legal advice, or IT help.

8) Tell us about another hobby/activity you are passionate about!
When I am not working on public health related projects, I love to dance! I started taking lessons at the age of 5 and have been exposed to a wide variety of styles throughout the years, including ballet, tap, jazz, modern, lyrical, Spanish, and Chinese. I am currently a part of two Chinese dance teams in the Greater Washington metropolitan area: Tianyi Dance Team and Xuejuan Dance Ensemble. I am thankful for the chance to participate in and share my love for dance and Chinese culture through local free or low-cost performances.

9) What are your plans after graduating college?
I will be starting MPH program in Epidemiology at the University of Maryland, College Park in Fall 2019. While I am still unsure of my exact career trajectory after graduation, I have enjoyed learning how to use SAS, a statistical analysis software, and hope to continue honing my skills in the future. I have also be involved in my local Chinese / Chinese-American community for many years, and would like to be able to utilize my background and skills to give back to this community.

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