As I walked into the VOZ worker’s center for the first time I felt overwhelming feelings of trepidation and fear. I nearly stopped in my tracks at the sight of dozens of Hispanic men crammed in a tiny room sharing food, cards, and laughter. As a young, Caucasian woman I felt completely out of place; almost like an intruder. The men stopped and silently looked as our group of students crammed into their tiny space. It seemed like an eternity of silence, but then without a moment’s notice the men got up and started to set up the room for our clinic to begin. They knew why we were here and were happy to have us.
My initial fear was quickly quelled and I was anxious to start seeing clients. My team consisted of a nurse/midwifery student, a medical student, and myself, a pharmacy student. Over the course of the five Saturdays, we saw many clients, all with amazing and unique stories. Most were Hispanic men from Mexico and South and Central America. In general, these men left their families behind and sent what little money they earned from day labor back to their families. I tried to imagine supporting a family from afar, how heart breaking it must be to have to live away from loved ones in order to support their needs. The men were so grateful for everything we brought them; from health care and advice to physical items like a toothbrush. This experience made me grateful for the simple things; having access to a toothbrush, a shower, a warm place to sleep, and food. These men frequently don’t have access to these simple things that we all take for granted.
Over the course of the five Saturdays, my team offered health care screenings for many clients. I was able to practice my physical assessments (yes – pharmacy students know how to do basic exams too) in addition to learning some new skills. We offered our client’s blood pressure screenings, heights, weights, eye exams and dental exams. As a team, we did our best to offer advice to the clients based on their health screenings; everything from lifestyle changes, to OTC medications, to clinic referrals. I relished the chance to work with other OHSU students and learned a great deal from my team members. Working with students from other OHSU schools is a unique and exciting experience that I would recommend to any student. We all bring different perspectives to the table and collectively have an amazing amount of knowledge. It was empowering to work with a team and truly help a population in need.
Overall my experience with iCHEE was amazing, but there were a few challenges. The language barrier was difficult because most of the men only spoke Spanish and I only speak English. That being said, this experience helped me learn how to effectively use an interpreter; an important skill for any health care worker. Second, we are still students, still learning, and we don’t always know what to do for our clients; but that’s where the amazing preceptors come in. Preceptors from all disciplines are there for us when we need assistance.
I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in iCHEE. This course empowers students, encourages teamwork, allows us to practice our clinical skills, and help people in need. I learned so much about the culture of the men at VOZ and how their lives are so different than mine. One man described in detail an herbal pain relief that his family has used for ages, and I realized there is so much more to healthcare than what is taught in school. Hopefully I helped some clients along the way, but if not I certainly gained a great deal of knowledge and culture from these kind men.
OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy
PharmD Candidate 2013