Many Title X clients in Nebraska are newcomers to the state and country. They are learning to navigate everything from country roads and freeways to school districts and health care. Dr. Vilma Rodriguez-Cline, a family medicine physician at Good Neighbor Community Health Center in Columbus, understands the struggle of starting a new life in a world that was as foreign to her as she was to it.
When she was a child, her family came to the United States and her parents followed work from one agricultural job to the next throughout the country until they made Kearney their home. She believes her story helps eliminate barriers while she’s caring for her clients. Her patients are mostly Spanish-speakers and, quite often, immigrants. This shared history allows her to connect with them on a level they don’t often find in health care settings. Having a similar background has allowed her to provide care that is culturally sensitive and effective.
“I care for people. I’m a counselor, a listener. I care for the whole patient. I was born in El Salvador and came here when I was 11,” she said. “I was the first girl [in my family] to graduate from high school. After high school, I went to [the University of Nebraska] Kearney and then to UNMC.”
Cline briefly worked in private practice, but felt it wasn’t for her. She grappled with the thought of patients who had followed her from her previous job at a community health center in Norfolk and the cost barrier that awaited them at her private practice office. Approaching her third anniversary at Good Neighbor, Cline knows she is where she belongs when she walks into work each day.
“Being a physician is a calling. God had put in my heart to serve others,” she said.
Cline said she has patients who travel from as far away as Lexington, a drive of more than 150 miles, to receive care from her. Cline’s commitment to them runs just as deep and she often focuses on that when she must deliver difficult news.
“I say a little prayer and take a deep breath. And, sometimes, I cry with them and pray with them,” she said.
Like many rural clinics, the balancing act of providing care during a pandemic presented unique challenges that called for unique solutions. Good Neighbor moved schedules around to accommodate their family planning clients in mornings and patients who may have been sick with COVID-19 in the afternoons.
Cline believes this strategy allowed them to serve their clients successfully and safely. Additionally, she believed the learning experience made the entire team stronger. She hopes to carry this strength forward to advance their patients.
Ultimately, Cline said she wants every client who may need health care to know one thing about Good Neighbor: “You are welcome here.”