When Claire Quinlan learned that her year of service with AmeriCorps VISTA would be at the Wyoming Department of Health, she was excited for the opportunity to serve in a capacity that would offer her a different perspective of the medical field than the one she would receive when she began medical school in the fall.
National service was always something Claire knew she wanted to do. With a desire to keep her focus on improving healthcare domestically, she chose to serve in AmeriCorps.
As a Chicagoan and recent college graduate serving in Wyoming in the department’s Aging Division, Claire would be working in a place and with a population that was very unfamiliar.
Serving as the first VISTA in this role, Claire’s work focused on uncovering the barriers to aging in place for older, rural adults in Wyoming. Over the following months, Claire visited skilled nursing facilities in seven counties across the state where she interviewed between 30 to 40 of the facilities’ residents. In each interview, her focus was on uncovering the problems they faced in staying in their homes and understanding what the state could have done to better serve their needs.
Claire’s study revealed all the various stakeholders involved in the aging process. She found that many older adults chose to move to a facility because they were concerned about the burden their presence in their families’ home was having on their caregivers. Claire submitted her findings to a scientific journal for publishing and wrote a white paper on policies to support aging at home.
Then COVID-19 hit. What began as a great experience became a life-changing experience, one that would redirect the focus of her career in the medical field.
Using the knowledge and skills gained during close to a year of working with rural seniors, Claire went to work.
She started by partnering with the First Lady of Wyoming, Jennie Gordon, to create a letter writing initiative. This campaign challenged children and the community to write letters which were sent to senior centers across the state to help combat isolation.
Claire went on to launch Wyoming Department of Health’s very first Facebook page. Each day she posts updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tips for staying at home, and announcements celebrating the many actions that senior centers are taking to brighten the days of their residents.
Although Claire’s focus has drastically changed from when she first began serving, she “feels so grateful to be in a position to work directly in this pandemic.” In fact, working with older adults particularly during COVID-19 has helped to inform her medical career going forward. “Right now, I would like nothing more than to be a geriatrics provider. There is so much wisdom and life to be shared in those conversations.”