Sometimes compassion is the best form of medicine. When PRIME student Viviana Huang Chen began her first year at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, she had no idea how the UCLA Student Run Homeless Clinics would inform her future. Now, five years later and less than two months away from graduating, Viviana speaks with gratitude about her time as a volunteer and administrative chief of these clinics.
"I look back on my experience and think about the number of patients we were able to see," says Chen. "To know we have had an impact on this population and this local community is truly amazing to me."
From medical school to the streets of Los Angeles
Homeless shelters in Los Angeles provide a warm meal and a place to sleep for more than 40,000 people in the county — and for the past 26 years they've also supplied medical care to more than 600 patients annually, thanks to medical students like Chen.
"We bring in all the supplies," she says. "We go into the shelter, and we set up clinic. The students pick up the supplies from our home base at school."
The Student Run Homeless Clinics, organized entirely by medical students, average more than 50 clinics per year, drawing medical residents, physicians and students across the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. The clinics specifically offer preventive health, physical exams, urgent care, chronic disease management, wound care, immunizations and referrals.
"The homeless clinics allowed me to have that very first patient experience early on, an experience medical students don't normally have in their first year," Chen observes.
A two-way learning process
Since 2012, more than 200 students have been involved in the Student Run Homeless Clinics. Each student who chooses to participate for course credit is committing to offer their services at least six times per year.
Throughout the year, physicians and homelessness experts offer students lunch talks about issues ranging from common homeless conditions such as tuberculosis, to medications and vaccines that best address this community's needs.
"Based on what they have learned over the course of the year, our students will offer a series of health education workshops to shelter residents," says Chen. "It is a two-way learning process."
On Match Day, Chen learned she'll be heading to Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, where she will complete her training in family medicine. She wants to continue treating the underserved, and has already been recruited to return to the UCLA Student Run Homeless Clinics in her free time as a resident — for five years and counting.
By Emily Williams