This is part 3 of a 3 part series spotlighting this year’s recipients of the Bobbi Ryder Migrant Health Champion Award. These individuals are pursuing educational opportunities that further their work to ensure access to quality healthcare for Agricultural workers and their families. #AgWorkerAccess
Name: Gary R. Kersbergen
Health Center: Maine Mobile Health Program – Augusta ME
Health Center Role: Community Health Worker
Educational Goal: Pursuing an MD degree
Please tell us a little bit more about what you’re studying and how you are going to apply that in your work with Ag Workers?
I will be attending the MD program at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in the fall. After working at a migrant farmworker health center during college, and for two years after completing college, I hope to return to serve the migrant farmworker as a provider. Working in a migrant health center was incredibly formative for me, and I aspire to advocate and serve the migrant farmworker community as a medical provider. To me, providing essential healthcare to those who have been neglected and rejected by the communities in which they work to provide the fresh food that we enjoy is an important act of resistance, gratitude, and advocacy.
What led you to become an Ag Worker Access Champion?
I first began working with migrant farmworkers at the Maine Mobile Health Program during college. I had grown up in Maine and knew about its large agricultural bounty of wild blueberries, broccoli, and dairy, yet I was unaware of the migrant workforce that drives these industries. As I began to learn more about the migrant workforce in Maine I realized that not only were these workers providing the labor behind my home state's largest products and exports, providing the same food that me and my family had enjoyed for years, but also that they were living on the margins of society. They were not recognized or acknowledged in their community because of what they looked like and the language that they spoke. The abusive nature of their condition and work as migrant farmworkers was causing them to suffer. Access to healthcare with dignity was a right that I believe needs to be bestowed upon them, and on all people.
Why do you care about increasing access to care for Ag workers?
I believe that increasing access is an act of gratitude and respect for the work of migrant farmworkers, I believe that it is an act of resistance to systems of racism and classism that disenfranchise them, and I believe that it empowers them to continue their work with pride and dignity.
What advice would you give to individuals interested in/considering a career in migrant health?
Never forget about the patients and the populations you want to serve. Always keep those connections and communities close to your heart.
How did you hear about the NCFH scholarship program?
Through the wonderful and supportive migrant health center where I have worked for the past two years, the Maine Mobile Health Program.
About the Bobbi Ryder Migrant Health Scholarship Award: Since 1984, NCFH has awarded more than $220,000 in scholarships to health center staff and board members to assist them in in pursuing their educational goals and to contribute to the development of the Community Health Center workforce. The award is named in honor NCFH’s former CEO and lifelong Migrant Health Champion, Bobbi Ryder.
These scholarship awards are made possible through funds raised from sales of NCFH commemorative fine art prints and posters.
The National Center for Farmworker Health
Improving health care access for one of America's most vulnerable populations