In November 2014 a couple of neighborhood pre‐health scholars became the catalysts for a leadership initiative, which we hope will continue to grow throughout the borough, city, and country. We started off as volunteers helping our mentor, then Family Medicine chief resident Juan Robles, run his weekly weight loss group for patients at the Montefiore Family Health Center (FHC). Our help consisted of planning meetings and collecting data on patient participation and progress. Through this experience, we became aware that practicing medicine in an underserved community entailed more than writing prescriptions and performing physical exams. It involves tackling the social and economic barriers to health, and thus we learned of the social determinants of health afflicting communities like ours located all over our country.
As our volunteering became more consistent, we found important meaning in our service, and Dr. Juan Robles and FHC Medical Director Dr. Maria Gbur took note. Together we decided it would be a wonderful idea to open our doors to other disadvantaged pre-health scholars, who would benefit from professional mentorship. We met in a small conference room at the old FHC site and together pinpointed important components of what would be the Bronx Community Health Leaders, more commonly called BxCHL. Our foundation would include receiving mentorship, exposure to the healthcare field, and accessing opportunities to serve patients at FHC and the local Bronx community.
BxCHL started out of the need of both pre-health scholars, and the primary care providers at the Montefiore Family Health Center. As pre-health students, we yearned for meaningful medical exposure and a positive environment where we could share resources, find solidarity with peers, and receive guidance from mentors that led a similar career trajectory. The Montefiore Family Health Center, always booming with innovative ideas to better help their comprehensive patient-centered care, needed assistance in their important yet often undervalued work. With this, a symbiotic relationship was born focused on the growth of our volunteers and support for the surrounding community. Dr. Robles gave us the title of “Leaders” because of our initiative to become agents of change in our often marginalized community.
BxCHL has continued to grow more organized and energetic. Our growth coincided with FHC’s big move to Fordham Plaza, where we play an important role in daily clinic activities, volunteering as patient navigators, patient educators, and community health advocates. In these roles, we have left our mark by publishing a monthly FHC Newsletter, maintaining health bulletin boards, and conducting food demonstrations for patients. In addition to this, some of our members hold supportive roles in ongoing medical and wellness group visits e.g. Weight loss, Diabetes, Nutrition, and Yoga.
Founding coordinators: Alexis Rodriguez, Julissa De La Cruz, Hyrjana Dibra, Harly Rodriguez (from left to right)
Hyrjana Dibra, Julissa De La Cruz, and Dr. Juan Robles
Julissa De La Cruz speaking to students during a weekly meeting at FHC