Last weekend I got dropped into the middle of medicine. I spent the day volunteering at a UC Davis student-run clinic called Clinica Tepati. It was a first for me on many levels, and all I can say is it was totally awesome!
What is a student-run clinic?
Well, it’s exactly what is sounds like. Medical students (both MD and PA) see the patients, and undergraduate students serve as medical assistants, translators, and receptionists. Students from any year of medical training can come and interview and examine patients, order labs, write out prescriptions, and a do million other things. Before you get to fretting, it’s all supervised by physician preceptors who work as paid employees for UC Davis Medical Center. UC Davis operates 7 such clinics, each oriented toward a different patient population. Services are free, and all medications are subsidized from 50 to 100%.
How do student-run clinics work?
Medical students greet, interview, and examine patients to their level of comfort. You can start by shadowing a doctor or another student, or you can just jump in, as I did. After you’ve studied your patient’s chart, you see them, then find the preceptor (a physician), and give a verbal presentation on your findings. The preceptor asks questions, makes sure you aren’t missing something important, and then complete the visit by ordering labs, writing scripts, and talking with the patient. The services are free as a community service, and students get practical, hands-on experience with patients from the very start of their training.
Because students are honing their skills, the pace is pretty slow – I saw three patients of my own all day (that felt like plenty to me!) I volunteered at La Clinica Tepati, which primarily serves the Latino community. In a nutshell, I saw three patients, drew blood from one of them for the labs that I ordered (for example, one of my patients required liver enzymes, a lipid panel, and a urinalysis), and wrote out several prescriptions). It was a busy and challenging day, in part because none of my patients spoke English, and I had to use an undergrad student interpreter. The interpreters are awesome, and most are there because they want to go into medicine someday. I learned so much, but I also realized how much I still have to learn!
Here’s a video clip on the UC Davis Student-Run Clinics. Because it’s a promotional video for the MD medical school side, you won’t hear much about PA students, but we do the same work as the MD students, who are very nice. In fact, many of them admit that first year PA students know a lot more about seeing patients than they do, because for the entire first two years they are in the classroom.