For AmeriCorps Member Kiara Isaza, Maternal Health Advocacy is a Year-Round Effort

Aspiring obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) Kiara Isaza is a Public Health AmeriCorps member in Zufall Health’s West Orange prenatal program. Recently, for Maternal Health Awareness Day (MHAD), Isaza and prenatal staff provided critical self-advocacy resources to pregnant patients—an experience she says she’ll be carrying with her to medical school and beyond.

Like all teams at Zufall, the prenatal program works hard to bridge gaps in health care access and reduce disparities. Many patients in this program face significant barriers, such as language, insurance, nutrition, transportation, and stable housing. Add to this that the U.S. still lags behind other countries in maternal health outcomes, with disproportionately high mortality rates impacting women of color that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. All of these factors make it essential for Zufall’s prenatal patients to learn how to self-advocate during their pregnancies, deliveries, and postpartum stages.

“Patients are the best to know their symptoms, but often need guided education on what is normal and what is reportable,” explains West Orange Prenatal Program Director Midge Clarke, RN. “The more educated a patient is about the normal pregnancy experience, the better they are at identifying what is not normal. When we add to this teaching about specific symptoms of concern to report or act on, we have the best patient care scenario. This is where the extended education that Zufall AmeriCorps members provide on all public health concerns is vital.”

Last week, under Clarke’s guidance, Isaza took a lead role in Zufall’s MHAD annual observance along with fellow AmeriCorps member Isabella Sesay and Case Manager Evelyn Paucar. The team educated more than 30 pregnant patients about establishing a daily check-in habit in which they complete a questionnaire each day about bleeding, cramping, kick counts, and concerns. Patients also learned about the physical and emotional warning signs that warrant notifying a health care provider or going to the ER. Zufall partner Moms Helping Moms Foundation kindly contributed goodie bags with baby essentials.

Isaza and Clarke emphasize that this commitment to pregnant patients’ education and self-advocacy extends beyond MHAD. All year-round, patients at all stages of pregnancy receive tailored education at their Zufall prenatal appointments and receive ongoing support for high-quality prenatal care and access to resources.

Currently about halfway through her 11-month Public Health AmeriCorps volunteer service term, Isaza is planning to go to medical school in the future. Previously, while completing her bachelor’s degree in public health with a concentration in health disparities, she served as a clinical events assistant and then a certified medical assistant with the health center.

Isaza is grateful to Zufall Health AmeriCorps for what the experience will add to her future career as an OB/GYN, noting, “I am learning so much during my service term. Each of our vulnerable prenatal patients has very unique needs. Some need more guidance than others, and so I am always learning something new about how to support the best possible outcomes for our future moms and their babies.”

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