Student-run clinic readies for opening in September
As if they didn’t have enough to do in their first year of medical school, a group of medical students from the Class of 2007 who had been looking for a way to volunteer in a student-run community clinic took the initiative to establish one at New York Medical College. As a result of their determination and ability to inspire fellow students and administrators, their vision will become a reality when the clinic gets underway in East Harlem this September.
“We were amazed that things fell into place so quickly,” said Megan Veresh, who co-heads the steering committee with classmates Elissa Lapide and Jessica Safra. “It took other medical schools years to set up their clinics.” The students, who first proposed the project in 2003 to Ralph A. O’Connell, M.D., provost and dean of the School of Medicine, credit the College and Metropolitan Hospital administrators, who in turn give all of the credit to the students. When Richard K. Stone, M.D. ’68, professor of clinical pediatrics and senior associate dean at the College and medical director at Metropolitan, heard about the students’ project plans from Dr. O’Connell, he immediately offered the use of an existing clinic affiliated with Metropolitan, La Clinica del Barrio. He arranged for the students to present their proposal to attending physicians, to get them on board as voluntary supervisors for one morning every three months. Dr. Stone also lined up two fellowships of $2,100 each, funded by the Metropolitan Medical Board for students eager to work on the project over the summer.
The student portion of the daily clinic will operate on Saturday mornings, staffed by a team of students from each year of medical school. They will perform duties commensurate with their education level, according to Joan P. Liman, M.D. ’83, M.P.H. ’93, assistant dean at Metropolitan and deputy to the medical director. Supervised by attendings who will see every patient, first-year students can take histories and manage patient education programs along with working at the front desk; second-years can do physical examinations; and third-years can do all of the above and draw blood as well. With more student volunteers than they anticipated, the students themselves will handle scheduling and assigning other students.
“Motivated purely by altruism and their strong desire to serve a community in need, they have done a really terrific job organizing the project,” said Dr. Liman.
In October 2003, when Mses. Veresh, Lapide and Safra learned that College had no student-run clinic, they independently went on the internet to research clinics at other area medical schools. They found each other with the help of a student at Albert Einstein Medical School and forged a partnership that has been an inspiring force ever since. Their motivation and commitment have carried the project along even when they felt overwhelmed with their studies, they said.
“In addition to supporting the mission of the College and its core value of providing access to medical care for the poor and underserved, the clinic gives students experience in clinical skills, public health and clinic administration,” said Dr. O’Connell. The provost and dean said he was impressed with the plans from his first meeting with students, but challenged them along the way to make sure their proposal was at all times in the best interest of the students, the College and most of all, the patients.
Their vision could not have become a reality without the advice and support of Anthony M. Sozzo, M.A., M.S.Ed., associate dean for student affairs and director of student activities and student financial planning, and their faculty advisor, Joseph L. Halbach, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of clinical family medicine and chairman of the Depart-ment of Family Medicine, who encouraged them to assess student interest at the College, they said.
They also got an unexpected boost when New York University and Albert Einstein medical schools, both of which have clinics, held a joint conference in the city on how to start a student-run clinic. The three student leaders and 19 other students from the College attended. Fortified with the practical information they needed, they called a general meeting of all medical students in Valhalla. “So many people signed up that we knew we had to get organized,” Ms. Veresh said. They established a steering committee that included representatives from each class and a sub-committee to find a location, which they assumed would be in Westchester County.
But before their preceptors in Westchester had time to reply to their surveys, Dr. Stone made the offer for the East Harlem clinic. “That location works out better than Westchester because third- and fourth-year students are living in the city. It would be inconvenient for them to travel, whereas the first- and second-year students are more enthusiastic about going into the city,” Ms. Veresh added.
One of four community clinics affiliated with Metropolitan Hospital and New York Medical College, La Clinica del Barrio serves an Afro-American and Hispanic population that includes undocumented immigrants who are not eligible for Medicaid. The clinic offers needed services regardless of patients’ ability to pay, according to Pranav C. Mehta, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine and of pediatrics and assistant medical director for Metropolitan’s community-based practices.
Established in 1997 to serve adults and children, the clinic is open every day except Sunday. Medical students will serve only the adult population under the supervision of volunteer attendings.
“It’s part of what we do as teachers to help mold our students, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for the doctors to give back to the community by mentoring the students,” said Dr. Mehta. “The students will be helping patients who are really in need and have no place else to go. The experience,” he added, “will help them to become better doctors and better human beings.”