LaTrese VanBuren-Thompson was born and raised in North Minneapolis. Living in the community she grew up in and finding different ways to give back have been important aspects in both her professional and personal life. Healthcare, which always interested LaTrese, is where she found her calling. She began her career as a medical assistant, a role she held for 16 years before transitioning into her current position as a community health worker (CHW) at University of Minnesota Physicians Broadway Family Medicine Clinic. LaTrese does much more than assist patients with their healthcare needs; she’s a resource, a friend and a support system for the people she works with. “I’ve always been the person who the family goes to when they need something, friends too. I’m always trying to problem solve and always trying to connect people with help and resources they need,” she recalled.

LaTrese frequently cares for patients who are diabetic and socially isolated. This type of work provides her with many unique challenges and unexpected tasks, which is an aspect of her job she truly appreciates. “I love it!” she says, “Having something new to do every day or challenges that keep me thinking and on my toes is exciting. It isn’t boring and it makes me want to get up every day to do it.”

Being a connected and knowledgeable member of the community also has benefits for LaTrese’s patients; she has the ability to share knowledge that will impact the social determinants of a patient’s healthcare. In one instance, during a scheduled walk with a patient, the patient shared the news of an impending eviction and the stress that it was creating for her. Due to LaTrese’s involvement with several community initiatives, she was able to give her patient the information she needed for a local housing program. She briefly screened her for the application and determined that she should apply. It worked and her rent was paid the next week.

Evictions, insurance lapses and paperwork deadlines all factor into a person’s ability to obtain healthcare, thus determining their health in many instances. LaTrese noted, “I see sometimes how the social isolation keeps them from reaching out. They wouldn’t even know how to reach out. Just answering their phone for me, or going for a walk, building that trust and feeling comfortable telling me what’s going on is big. How can you focus on your diabetes when you’re about to be homeless?”

As a community health worker LaTrese strives to help patients with more than just healthcare. She explained, “The most rewarding thing is coming into a situation with a complete stranger, building a trusting relationship and building a relationship where the person actually likes me. I get to experience patients in a whole different way and I really like that. It’s just great helping people and I’m so glad I went to school for this.”

Recently, LaTrese graduated from the 2019 MNCHWA Leadership Development Institute. The program allowed her to connect with other community health workers and experience different perspectives from her peers. “Meeting other community health workers and hearing their stories, hearing what was difficult for them or what really worked for them was amazing. Just learning about legislation and how laws will pertain to us was new for me. You never know what you’re going to do with the information you’re given, it might be valuable eight months from now.”

In addition to her job at Broadway Family Medicine Clinic, LaTrese attends a local community partners meeting, the Hawthorne Huddle (a neighborhood council) and is part of the community engagement achievement team at North Memorial. “I’m constantly trying to make connections, see what’s going on in the community, see what resources we have for them and just trying to have my ear open to everything since I know it’ll benefit somebody.” One of her future goals is to implement cooking classes for the community. It would be beneficial for diabetic patients and give them a skillset that’s critical to managing their condition.