Hometown: Richardson, TX
Agency: Fan Free Clinic in Richmond, VA
What did you enjoy most about the internship? Going out into the jails and detention centers with the Fan Free Outreach team to offer free HIV testing was an eye-opening experience that took me out of my comfort zone. Just talking with the prisoners and getting to know them on a personal level changed my perspectives on a lot of things.
What was the greatest challenge? To work at the Fan Free, you have to take on the persona of a community helper. It's not your job to intervene into the lives of others and dictate how they should live and that necessitates putting aside your personal beliefs, which can be difficult.
What was the greatest lesson you learned through your experience? The strength and determination of the people that come into the medical clinic is amazing. Listening to their stories has helped me to realize that misfortune can strike anyone and there's only a thin line separating the patient and the provider.
How might the internship affect your career path? Before working at the Fan Free Clinic, I'd wanted to go to medical school but I had never really had an experience in healthcare besides an annual checkup at my doctor's office. However, being able to talk to health providers, shadow physicians, and get a first hand account of the problems of the current healthcare system has now confirmed my plans to become a physician.
This summer, I had the opportunity to intern at the Fan Free Clinic in Richmond, Virginia. I remember thinking back in March, when I was informed of the placement, that I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, seeing as how I had been volunteering for the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic for a good semester by then. Upon receiving my first call from my supervisor at the clinic, I was given an overview of how the clinic worked, who they served, what services were provided, etc.--nothing too different--and then as more of a parting word than anything else, I was told that the Fan Free served a "diverse population." Now, having graduated both from one of the largest high schools in Texas and from one that, oftentimes, our rival high school referred to as "the ghettos," I figured I'd seen diversity and that, given our size, I'd seen a lot of it. I was wrong.
The first week of my internship at the Fan Free Clinic flew by as I was thrown into a world of chaos made up of flurries of introductions and names to memorize, thick binders full of mandatory reading material and a checklist of skills to perfect until I'd get my chance to staff the medical clinic. By the time the weekend came, I felt like weeks had already gone by due to the sheer amount of experiences that I already had under my belt. I had met nearly the entire staff of the Fan Free (including a man who had once been a part of the Black Panther Party and had spent a good 30 years of his life in prison), been given my first stethoscope and blood pressure cuff to practice with (much to the dismay of my housemates) and accompanied the Fan Free Outreach team to a health fair at a church in one of the most crime-riddled neighborhoods in Richmond to facilitate HIV awareness and testing.
After the week of acclimation to the bustling activities at the clinic, I was given a desk in the office of the Clinical Outcomes Coordinator, who was heavily involved with the diabetes population at the clinic. A little background: Patients with diabetes have chronic high blood glucose levels which, if untreated, can cause nerve damage, kidney failure, coma and death. Having been involved with the diabetes project at the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic, I started on working on the Fan Free Clinic's Diabetes Wellness Project aimed at revolutionizing diabetic treatment. Traditionally, patients are given dozens of pamphlets packed full of information on foods that should be eaten and those that should be avoided to keep one's glucose level in the normal range. The problem with the old method is that every person's body is different, so each person's glucose levels don't necessarily respond the same way to each food. The beauty of the Wellness Project is that it overcomes this obstacle by capitalizing on the self-education of the patient. The project consisted of twelve diabetics each who agreed to take their blood glucose levels six times a day--one before and one after each meal--in an attempt to help the patient identify exactly which foods drove their glucose up or down and by how much. After eight weeks the results were incredible. 11 of the 12 diabetics lowered their Hemoglobin A1C numbers--a three month blood glucose level average--and one man even lowered his A1C number from 13 to 8, meaning he went from being a high risk patient in danger of going into a diabetic coma to a man in control of his condition. Another patient, a diabetic woman with a bipolar disorder and a rare, incurable neuromuscular disease, had an A1C number that had been rising for over nine months. Her latest result, which came in just a few days ago, showed a drop from 11 to 8.
After eight weeks, six outreach trips, dozens of HIV tests, and dozens of dozens of people that I'm lucky to have met, I've come out of the experience as a different person. Even as I write this on the plane back to Dallas, I think of those people whose lives intersected with mine for a brief time. In Richmond, I was immersed in a simulated poverty, but even if all of my hardships in those eight weeks were combined, it would only be a fraction of the hardships that some of those people encounter on a daily basis. They don't have the luxury of hopping on a plane and escaping their living situation. The people that I met in Richmond are faced with obstacles every day, and only through seemingly infinite amounts of inner strength and perseverance do they manage, against all odds, to scrape together what is barely considered a living by most.
The biggest question that burns in my head is, what will become of the people with untold stories of daily struggle? I can't answer that. I don't know what the latest healthcare overhaul is going to be like or how it's going to provide medical coverage for those people at the bottom of the economic ladder--those that need it most. What I do know is that there will always be untold stories of deserving people left behind by the rising cost of healthcare. Maybe there will be a day, twenty or thirty years from now, when poverty and healthcare issues will cease to exist, but until then each and every person that I can help right now is a step in the right direction. What I do know is that it is those stories that I heard in the clinic and during outreach in the streets of Richmond have and will continue to inspire me to become a doctor--to keep walking in the right direction.