3 Questions with Aubrey Flemming, A’20, Health Coach and Medical Assistant, Western North Carolina Community Health Services

Welcome to “3 Questions with …”, a recurring feature on the Career Center blog. We’re asking alumni of all graduation years and career interests to share a bit of their experiences and advice. 

 Aubrey Flemming, A’20, Health Coach and a Medical Assistant, Western North Carolina Community Health ServicesAubrey Fleming

1. In just a few sentences, please tell us about your current job/graduate program/vocational endeavor.

I am an AmeriCorps member for a non-profit based in North Carolina called MedServe. MedServe partners with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and free clinics in North Carolina and employs 1-2 fellows per clinic who are interested in careers in healthcare, public health, and in primary care. All MedServe fellows hold both a community health role and a clinical role. I serve at Western North Carolina Community Health Services (WNCCHS) in Asheville, NC as a Health Coach and a Medical Assistant. As a FQHC, WNCCHS provides high-quality whole person health care to patients regardless of ability to pay, including low income, indigent, and uninsured patients who may not otherwise be able to afford health care via traditional sources.

2. How did your time at Tufts influence your career journey?

As a Tufts student, not only did I have access to so many resources and opportunities, but I was a part of a community that encouraged the exploration of my full self and all of the multifaceted interests that I have.  During my sophomore year, I declared a Biology major with a minor in Food Systems and I decided to take on the pre-med track, thinking that I wanted to broaden my scope of study in the healthcare field. While I remained very interested in nutrition, and still hoped that it would be a part of my future health counseling, I was also thinking about access to healthcare. I wanted to make sure that I was working in a field that would take insurance so that future patients would not have to pay out of pocket for my services.

Tufts’ language requirement also significantly contributed to my career journey. I decided on a Tufts study abroad program, because I knew my financial aid would transfer completely, and I did not regret it.  My four months in Madrid changed my outlook and perspective on how I was spending my time in the States and what “success” meant to me. After having taken Chem 1 and 2, Genetics, three Spanish classes, and organic chemistry in the year leading up to my Junior year, I was burned out. Having the opportunity to be in Madrid, challenging myself, living in a new place, meeting new people, and having free-time after class (what a concept!) was unbelievably beneficial for me. I had time for journaling and sitting in my own thoughts. I saw how the Spanish people prioritize being with friends and family and taking time to eat together. If I told my host-mother that I was going to do work in a café alone, she would exclaim, “why on earth would you go alone?” The experience helped me reassess how I had been approaching my time at Tufts so far: packing my schedule full of super hard classes that I felt I had to take, joining clubs that I felt that I “needed” to be a part of. After living in Spain, I changed my outlook from “resume-building” to “self-building.” Additionally, I saw my Spanish improve from around a 4 to a 8 or 9 out of 10 in my fluency and now use it every day on my job in a health clinic.

Also, by taking so many food system classes while at Tufts, I started to become interested in the systemic side of food/nutrition and food access. I began to think more about agriculture, methods of growing, and how that affects communities and the earth. By learning to stop doing what was “expected” of me and sticking with the pre-med status quo, I decided I wanted to give working in agriculture a go. The Summer before my Senior year, as a Tisch Summer Fellow, I worked at a non-profit, food-access-focused, sustainable vegetable farm in Virginia called Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. My initial nutrition interest came full circle my senior year and I crossed-registered in an agricultural policy class at the Friedman School, where I met some of the smartest and most motivated people in the agriculture field.

I graduated during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020 and had a job lined up as a medical scribe for the Pediatric ENT team of Tufts Medical Center. I wanted to gain real life experience in the medical field to help decide if it was the path for me. Throughout that first post-grad year, I also kept a foot in the agriculture world, working as an assistant farm manager at the urban garden, Groundwork Somerville in the Summer of 2020 before my scribing gig began and then volunteering every Saturday throughout the Winter at Somerville’s Winter Farmers Market, helping to manage the indoor market and pre-ordered sales. This first experience in a medical field taught me that I do not want to go to medical school or be a doctor, but that I still want to be involved in providing direct care for people. I am currently exploring the primary care setting through my role with MedServe in Asheville, NC, and after this experience, I plan to pursue a degree in nursing, which I hope to always be doing alongside farming. I will be growing food, while keeping in touch with the health and needs of my community. I am going to be a farming nurse and my time at Tufts was unbelievably influential in helping me create that path.

3. What advice would you offer to a student who wants to pursue a career path like yours?

  • Talk to people about what interests you. Talk to your peers, older students, even professors and lab directors. They are your biggest asset as a Tufts student.
  • Use the resources that Tufts has to offer: The Career Center Internship Grants, Tisch Summer Fellows, Tisch Summer Scholars to name a few.
  • Use the Career Center. Now is the time to build your confidence and skill in writing resumes, cover letters, and interviewing. I worked in the Career Center for all four years at Tufts and the staff there were my family away from home. They are the kindest individuals and ready to help. Don’t be scared of them and don’t be afraid of learning what you don’t know. That is how we grow.
  • Choose one degree/major and then take classes simply because they interest you. If I could do it again I would take Colin Orian’s Tropical Ecology class. I would take Spanish in the Community. I would take advantage of the fact that Tufts partners with the SMFA.
  • Go abroad. The work it takes to factor it into your degree is worth it. You will not regret it. If I could do Tufts over again, I would have gone for a full year and possibly to two different places.
  • Work towards happiness in your day-to-day, in your now. That will set you up for the right path, the right career, the right life. Don’t work yourself to the bone waiting for some future imagine of happiness.

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By Malakia Silcott
Malakia Silcott Assistant Director