Hometown: Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Minor: Poverty and Human Capability Studies
Why did you apply for this particular internship? After volunteering a fair amount at the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic in Lexington, I knew that I wanted to do my Shepherd Internship at a free clinic to gain deeper insight into healthcare and poverty. I was particularly interested in the Fan Free Clinic because of the hands on experience it provides. Also, knowing that Fan Free does a lot of work with HIV and transgender patients, I was excited to challenge and break out of my comfort zone.
How did your work apply to your studies at W&L? As a Neuroscience pre-med major, working at a free clinic allowed me my first hands-on experience in the medical field, and a glimpse into aspects of my future career path. I also was able to talk to patients, to learn and understand the difficult circumstances that led to their poverty. Through these conversations, I was able to apply lessons learned at W&L, particularly in Poverty and Psychology courses.
What was the most unexpected aspect of your Shepherd Alliance experience? Going into my internship, I definitely did not expect to have deep, meaningful conversations with the patients who came to the clinic. Sure, I pictured myself making small talk while I took vitals in triage, but I had no idea the substance these interactions would contain, and the amount that I would learn from those I was serving.
Post-Graduation Plans: Medical School
Favorite W&L Memories: My favorite memories are random ones with my friends, laughing and dancing. The first one that comes to mind is dancing around a study room during the delirium of exam week. I also will never forget freshman year, Spring Kickoff of Mock Con. And this OWeek may have topped them all--I love being in a house with my friends.
Advice for prospective or first-year students? Come in with an open mind. Try new things, take lots of different courses, and meet everyone that you can. Don't be afraid to branch out, be independent and do things on your own. Do what makes you happy--these are your four years. And enjoy every second of your W&L experience, it is absolutely the best.
Favorite Class: Psychology 113, Principles of Development
Favorite W&L Event: Spring Term. All of it.
Favorite Campus Landmark: Cadaver Bridge. Or Lee Chapel. It's a toss up. Wait, does Pink Hut count as a campus landmark?
Why did you choose your major? I originally planned on majoring in Biology, but freshman year I fell in love with Psychology as well. Neuroscience combines both of those academic fields.What do you wish you'd known before you came to campus? People here are the friendliest I have met. Asking for help when you need it isn't scary or intimidating.
The Fan Free Clinic is located just outside of the Fan District in Richmond, Virginia. Amidst the colorful homes and trendy nightclubs populated by primarily VCU students is a nondescript office building that serves the low income and uninsured population. Though originally started in the 1960s to provide healthcare to the underserved homosexual population, the Fan Free Clinic is now composed of four separate yet integrated sections: mental health, HIV outreach, case management and the medical clinic. Today, the medical clinic sees all types of patients with varying needs.
It's 11:00 a.m., and I've been at the Fan Free Clinic for three and a half hours--checking patients in, bringing them back and doing their vitals before the nurse practitioner or doctor sees them. As I call back the eleventh patient of the day, I expect to run efficiently through his height, weight, temperature, pulse and blood pressure so I can clean all the empty rooms, finish the filing, and run the three pregnancy tests waiting before lunchtime. The Fan Free Clinic is a busy place, and there is always something to be done.
As I bring the man into exam room one, he begins to ask me about myself. Some patients prefer to be left alone, but I can immediately tell this man enjoys conversing. We quickly cover the basics: my school year, future career plans and hometown. By the time I have finished taking his blood pressure and checking his blood glucose levels (WNL, or within normal limits), we are engaged in a conversation regarding the progress being made towards a cure for Alzheimer's disease. I am humbled by this man's knowledge as he educates me on the latest drugs and treatment options for Alzheimer's, along with recent breakthroughs in research to cure the disease.
Coming into this internship, I naively pictured myself educating the poor with my knowledge and my skills. Of course, I planned to learn about poverty through my interaction with people at Fan Free, but I never envisioned myself learning about the latest scientific research from a patient. Yet this man, with a four-year college degree in biology, was simultaneously teaching me about science, healthcare and poverty. While not every patient I called back into triage was a college graduate, many were. This man illustrated to me the many people who graduated from college, at one point had a solid job (with health insurance), and never believed they would have to worry about facing hard economic times, let alone actual poverty. It's one thing to hear about such situations, but it's another to break completely out of the Washington and Lee bubble and meet people who are actually living them.
At one o'clock, after a quick lunch break, I bring the first afternoon patient into her exam room. Her temperature is a little elevated, and when I make a small remark to this point, she quickly explains she rode her bike to the clinic, elevating the thermometer reading. When I take her blood glucose, it is alarmingly low. Again, the patient has an explanation, stating she hasn't been able to eat for over twelve hours, and is hoping to receive some canned goods from the food pantry before she leaves. From other small exchanges during my time with the patient, it becomes evident to me that she is homeless, though she defies the typical description of a homeless person. She is not visibly dirty or physically emaciated. Even more surprisingly, she discusses her lifestyle not with shame, but with a sense of pride. She seems proud of her own resourcefulness and freedom.
This woman represents the type of patient one of my supervisors mentioned to me on just my second day at the clinic. Many of the people who are patients at Fan Free have no desire to alter their current living situation. They may be impoverished, they may struggle to find every meal, and they may not even know where they are going to sleep every night. But somehow, they simply make do, and they are satisfied, even proud of their lifestyle and their resilience. So instead of wasting money and resources in attempt to change their behavior, Fan Free Clinic and its employees and volunteers sees their duty as helping them live as safely and healthily as they possibly can.
The time I spent at the Fan Free Clinic this summer allowed me opportunities to learn innumerable lessons regarding the poor. Apart from putting a personal touch on theories and ideas discussed in Poverty 101, this internship allowed me to directly relate my future career as a physician to my interest and care for those in poverty. I have come to understand and realize that as a doctor, one thirty minute encounter with a patient is not going to remove them magically from their trying situation. However, treating all patients' needs in a respectful manner and educating them to understand the importance of their health or the details of their specific conditions allows them to leave the clinic healthier, happier and more confident than when they entered. Such care from those at Fan Free provides some of the tools and traits that will one day, hopefully, allow them to reach economic stability above the poverty line.