Imagine sitting in a Planned Parenthood waiting room for the first time ever. You’re nervous, your hands are sweating, and you can’t stop your knees from shaking. Nothing you do helps you relax, so you sit and hope that whoever helps you will be as kind as the person at the check-in desk.
Moments later, the door into the back opens and your name is called. You’re greeted by a young woman with a kind smile and she leads you to a patient room. On the way, she cracks a couple of jokes, and you joke back. For a moment, her lively energy lets you forget why you’re there in the first place. She starts her round of questioning but then asks one that makes your heart pound.
“So, why are you here today?”
You look back at your sweaty hands and mumble your answer. Without a hint of judgment, she continues to ask a few more questions yet none of them lead you to feel shame or remorse. You’re surprised.
She spends the rest of her time going over what to expect when the doctor comes in and encourages you to come back for a wellness check. You learn that PPMW provides primary care and even behavioral health. You mention to her that you’re surprised by all the services available to you and by her attitude towards your needs.
With a kind smile and excitement in her eyes, she says, “We're not judging you. You came to get what had to get done, and you came in to take care of yourself. That's really all that matters to us. We just want to help you.”
That day you leave PPMW with your needs met, a new primary care provider, and a different perspective on how Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC cares for its patients.
Dajannay Braxton aims to give everyone who walks through PPMW’s doors this type of experience. As a Primary Care Lead, Dajannay is often the first person patients see at the check-in desk or the second person they interact with when they’re called back into the patient rooms. This means that on days she is not checking in patients at the front desk, she is responsible for guiding patients to the patient rooms, taking their vitals, and asking questions to help the doctor do their job. For this reason, Dajannay takes her role very seriously to ensure that patients start and end with a positive experience.
Many of the patients who come in are fearful or suspicious of the type of care they’re going to receive. Often, they have been neglected or bullied by other health care providers in the past so they come in expecting similar treatment. Dajannay seeks to build relationships with the patients and meet not only their physical needs but their emotional needs as well to help patients feel comfortable, despite their past experiences. She explains, “Sometimes we really have to talk to them. And they just want me to listen, and it really feels good for a stranger to come in the room and feel very comfortable to talk to another stranger and feel happy at the end of their visit.”
The need to help patients feel comfortable to better serve them is especially evident in Black female patients who have historically experienced bias from a doctor and been refused treatment with more frequency than white patients. This has caused many Black women to feel distrustful towards doctors and avoid doctors’ offices completely. Dajannay has witnessed this problem first hand. As she explains, “Nowadays a lot of Black women are complaining about breast pain, and doctors will push off breast pain as though like ‘you're over-exaggerating’, like it's not that serious. But then they come to Planned Parenthood and realize that you need a mammogram, you need to get your breasts checked. Many of them don’t want to get a breast exam because they’ve never had one before.”
Sometimes building relationships with patients can be simple, but other times patients can require a little more work to build trust. She explains that many patients will come in with stigmas around the type of services that the health center provides and that addressing those beliefs head-on can be essential to building trust between a patient and PPMW. Dajannay explains, “That's so, so important, that people are walking away with new information, and broken ideas of what they used to know, because what they used to know isn't accurate, and they're going to be able to walk away and also tell other people.”
For Dajannay, her goal is to always create an experience where patients walk out of the health center with a smile on their faces and their needs met. She says that this level of care and attentiveness is reflected in the care she provides and the overall PPMW culture where the staff believes in caring for everyone who walks through their doors.
“The team that we have now is just like, wow,” Dajannay says. “Management, the doctor, the nurse, and the coworkers I work with, they make sure I’m happy. We’re really like a team because the women are like sisters. They are constantly checking in on each other and asking, ‘You need this? What's wrong? Who did it? What y'all talking about? Want some food? Need some water? Take a break.’ And it really makes me so happy to come to work and feel that way. And that’s the experience I want patients to feel when they walk out of the health center."