College Students Tackle Homelessness, Healthcare At Student-Run Clinic
Early on a Saturday morning, when a lot of college students are probably still sleeping, Pooja Paode and about a dozen other college students from all over Arizona are seeing their first patient of the day.
The students huddle in a conference room at the the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix, where the homeless come for a hot meal and a bed.
“He does have high blood pressure and he used to take medication for the blood pressure,” one student said. “It was slightly elevated, 137 over 77.”
They are the students behind SHOW, Student Health Outreach for Wellness, an inter-professional, free healthcare clinic for the homeless in downtown Phoenix.
“You see a patient, and then you go back to your huddle, you discuss as a team how to approach the patient’s care, and then you actually go and take care of the patient,” explains Pooja Paode, who worked to help launch the clinic as a student at Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. A recent graduate of ASU, she’s now working at SHOW coordinating development and research.
SHOW is the first tri-state university, student-led clinic in Arizona. Patients here are treated by students from all three state universities and providers who volunteer their time every Saturday to help.
These students fill up the county’s Health Care for the Homeless Clinic’s facilities when they’re empty on the weekends and, in their first year open, they’ve treated over 1,100 patients who come in from the crowded county shelter just outside their doors.
“People will come in with like 10 chief complaints, related to back pain, chronic pain, a lot of chronic conditions that just go unmanaged because of their situation,” Paode said.
Since 2013, more than 150 students from 16 professional programs at all three state universities have volunteered their time here – students studying everything from nursing, nutrition and medicine, to social work, business and journalism.
To Paode, they fill an important void.
“Any other time that’s not Mondays to Fridays, like business hours,” she said. “The patients don’t have anywhere to go. And so they’ll go to the Emergency Department.”
She wrote her senior thesis on the clinic and said, in one semester, SHOW likely saved more than $30,000 by diverting patients who would have otherwise gone to the ER.
“And it’s actually not going to help them in the long run because it’s not like, when you go to the Emergency Room, it’s not like patient-centered care, they just take care of whatever your issue is and you go,” she said.
Paode has been involved with the clinic from almost the very beginning.
“I started wanting to be a physician,” she said. “It’s something my parents had told me, everyone was like ‘oh, we’ve got to have a doctor in the family!’”
She tried it and enjoyed providing care, she said. “But, I always saw it from like a systems perspective, where I was like, ‘I think there’s a better way we can do this,’” she said. And that’s what she said she’s been able to do at SHOW.
Now, she’s looking toward a career in healthcare policy, she said.
Dr. Liz Harrell, who helped found the SHOW clinic in 2013 and is the Program Director there, said the students who spend time here gain more than a line on their resumes.
“It’s also this greater understanding of how healthcare works in America right now, how to move forward towards better national care,” she said.
That’s why Harrell designed the clinic as inter-professional, integrated care.
“So because we have an inter-professional team, a patient might see an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, and like a medical student and nursing preceptors, all in the same day,” Paode said.
They also integrate medical and mental health care. Harrell said she hopes these students will shape the future of health care in our country.
“I’m hoping that they will be the change agents,” she said. “Then, as they move forward, they will understand the benefits of working together and so that they, as they move out, they will demand that as they set up their own practices and work in practices.”