Under its current leadership, the United States is campaigning for a more fundamental approach to health care with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that is based on the principle that all citizens have the right to adequate healthcare. The ACA is an idealized and simplified overhaul of U.S. health care that calls for a change to the system on par in scope with the enactment of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965. The broad and desirable goal is to decrease the number of uninsured Americans in order to decrease national healthcare costs.

Vital to the success of the ACA is the community health center, and this week we should embrace those ideals during National Health Center Week (August 5-11, 2012).  

Health-care providers employed at community health centers treated approximately 20.2 million people in 2011, of which 36% were uninsured, Department of Health and Human Services statistics show. One in every 15 people living in the United States relies on the care provided at community health centers. These centers are changing communities and subsequently the health of America by providing quality primary care services and through a commitment to ensuring patients receive adequate preventive medicine.

As primary care provider at a community health center, I rely on a multi-disciplinary approach to health care and am committed to providing culturally competent and patient-centered care. My colleagues and I often work extended hours and on weekends to ensure that health services are accessible. We strive to provide high quality care in resource-poor areas. We are the gatekeepers of  health care, managing chronic and acute illnesses and assisting patients in understanding their health-care needs. We not only diagnose and treat, we advocate for health. We educate in addition to prescribing.

Health care providers at community health centers are absolutely integral to decreasing U.S. health-care costs and creating a healthier America. 

If you are considering a career in community health or are interested in more information on community health centers, I encourage you to visit the website for the National Associates of Community Health Centers, here.

Leigh Montejo, MSN, FNP-BC, is a National Public Health Service Corp scholar completing her service commitment as a Family Nurse Practitioner at Tampa Family Health Centers Inc. in Florida. Her areas of interest include adolescent health, health promotion and improving access to healthcare in underserved populations.