Note: If you’d like to get involved with HCEW, please contact Taryn Hansen (email@example.com)
First and second year medical students spend a lot of time in classrooms. Despite electives, preceptor experiences and volunteer commitments outside of schoolwork, most of us spend more time than we would like listening to lectures, studying and proving our knowledge on standardized tests. During Health Care Equity Week (April 20 – 26), students from various disciplines are attempting to extend our classroom walls. During the week, we will have various lunchtime talks from local experts in healthcare disparities and efforts to provide affordable, quality healthcare for all. On Sunday, April 26, medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy students will set up camp in a parking garage in Bryant Park to provide health care for Portland’s homeless, hurting and underserved population.
One day of foot cleaning, blood pressure screenings and ten-minute doctor’s visits will not fix many problems, but we are optimistic that we can raise public awareness of health disparities, raise our own awareness and provide some much-needed services. We are studying medicine in the context of significant changes to our health care system, but it is important for us to remember, and see, those whose situations will not change through the Affordable Care Act – those who are still vulnerable due to their living situation, immigration status or reticence to engage in the traditional health care system. Last year at this event, a physician and I diagnosed a non-English speaking man with strep throat and the pharmacy students were able to provide a course of antibiotics. The man admitted to me that he was unlikely to attend his follow-up appointment with a local, low-cost provider because of his immigration status. This encounter taught me more about health care in Oregon than a course of lectures about the Affordable Care Act. We didn’t solve that man’s problems – where did he sleep that night? Did his symptoms resolve? Is he able to work in this country? – but perhaps we helped a little. That learning in and of itself is valuable; we can never solve a patient’s problems, but we can continue learning and changing the small things we can control.
On Sunday, April 26 we will try to change many small things, through diabetic foot exams, vision and hearing checks and other health care that we can provide for six hours in a parking lot. We also have referrals to primary care and specialty clinics in the community and can hand out select medications to those that need it. Finally, we will have coupons for a meal at Sisters of the Road Café for our patients. Health Care Equity Week might not solve all the problems, but hopefully it will enlighten some students and brighten some patients’ days.