Princeton Students Study Health Care in Urban New Jersey

Dec 9, 2013, 12:30 PM, Posted by Christine Nieves

Recently, I heard through our grantee at Princeton University that a group of students was organizing a weeklong trip to meet with people working to improve health care in urban New Jersey. The students asked to meet with program staff at the Foundation to get recommendations regarding people to meet and key questions to ask, and we obliged. After their trip, we wanted to hear how things had gone, so I reached out via email. I found their curiosity energizing, and hope you do, too.

Why are you interested in health care?

Azza Cohen: My interest in health care was sparked when I began an internship at Medline Industries, Inc. in the summer of 2011...Then, while living and working in India through Princeton’s Bridge Year Program, I saw the paradox of health in the developing world, where technology pushes forward while basic health needs remain unmet.

Justin Ziegler: While I'm not sure what field I want to go into, I know that I want to do something that is meaningful—and health care impacts absolutely everybody.

What was the most interesting conversation you had on this trip?

Ziegler:  We had an opportunity to talk with Chris Paladino and Sarah Clarke of DEVCO... They recently completed a landmark project in New Brunswick called the Wellness Plaza, which includes a Robert Wood Johnson Fitness and Wellness Center and a Fresh Grocer. They were able to extend subsidized affordable memberships to New Brunswick residents, making the fitness center accessible to everyone. The Fresh Grocer was the first grocer brought to New Brunswick in 80 years, and the first major supermarket brought to an urban area in New Jersey for two decades. It was simply remarkable having the opportunity to talk to two incredible people who have effected this change.

Cohen: We were lucky to meet with Dr. Ruth Perry, who is leading the Trenton Health Team to make real, positive change for area residents. While we were interviewing her for our video, she talked about how sickness is really a “manifestation of a social problem.” (She also said that) health is more than the absence of illness, treatment is more than medications and health care is more than a relationship between a hospital and an insurance company.

What book, article, documentary or other piece of media related to health care or creating social change has had the biggest impact on you?

Ziegler: I would say The Innovator's Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care by Clayton M. Christensen.

Cohen: Definitely Sorrel King’s Josie’s Story: A Mother’s Inspiring Crusade to Make Medical Care Safe. Mrs. King writes about her daughter’s death as a result of miscommunication and needless mistakes. I admire her strength in telling her story, and the vulnerability with which she tells it. It forced me to reconsider how much I trust this broken system, but also gave me hope that perhaps the simplest solution is promoting better communication between health care workers and patients.

What's the best piece of advice or wisdom you've heard about creating social change?

Cohen: My professor, John Danner, told us, “your greatest enemy is the status quo.” We can’t just complain about the state of health care—we must question it, refashion it, and reform it.

Like I said: Energizing. For more about the students’ weeklong exploration of the New Jersey health system, read their blog and check out the website they created about their trip.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.