Thursday, March 26, 2009

Required Volunteering

As every pre-medical student knows, one of the important components in the formula to getting into medical school is volunteering. It is preferred that this volunteering be of the clinical variety, exposing volunteers to direct patient interaction and those providers that give the health care. In my quest for medical school admission, I have decided to succumb to what I call the "formula" and have started volunteering for two great locations: Lyon Martin Health Services and the UCSF Emergency Department.

I've been at Lyon Martin now for five weeks and it has been a fantastic experience thus far. All of the staff and health care providers are great people and they are always willing to answer any questions, however petty, that I may have. As a Volunteer Clinical Assistant, my duties will ultimately include rooming patients, taking histories, room-cleaning, and other patient-centered activities. Right now, I spend most of my time filing stacks of charts and assisting the front desk with whatever tasks they need help with. This is not nearly as interesting as rooming patients, but it is valuable in teaching me how the clinic operates and getting me familiar with the kinds of patients that we see.

Lyon Martin is a women's clinic that focuses on LGBT and transgender medicine. I know. What is this straight as an arrow person doing at this clinic? Hah. I ask myself that sometimes too. I am very passionate about ensuring that everyone has access to adequate health care, no matter what their background or status in life may be. Yes, 1/3 of the patients are transgender, but this is because we provide great care and treat all patients as equal. Especially in that community, this is not the norm. Many transgender individuals have nerve-wracking and biased health care experiences and they often choose to forgo basic care due to the discrimination that they may face. So, why am I dedicating my time to this clinic? Because I first and foremost care about people and I want to be part of a clinic that cares about people as well.

In addition to my service at Lyon Martin, I have also decided to volunteer at UCSF in the Emergency Department. I have not started yet, but I just attended the ED orientation last night. Let me tell you, this is going to be an entirely different experience from that at Lyon Martin. The UCSF ED is not like the ED at SFGH. There is not usually a lot of trauma or low-income patients, comparatively. To me, it doesn't matter. I want to learn about how treatment is done in a hospital environment and I figured that the UCSF ED would be a good place to start.

Now, after last night's orientation I must admit that I am quite nervous. There are so many things to remember, the least of which is trying not to bring any lawsuits upon the ED. LEAST OF WHICH!!! Sure, I am not going to be diagnosing or treating patients in any way, but I am going to be speaking with them and ensuring that they as comfortable as they can be. I know it is going to take me a while to figure out what exactly is my responsibility and what I can and cannot do; I just hope that people are understanding with me and help to guide me in the right direction. My next step is to set up a time to shadow another volunteer. This will hopefully get done next week. And then, I'll be on my own ;)

Yes, clinical experience is critical to understanding how health care is provided and to figure out whether being a health care provider is truly the right career path for me. So far, I have absolutely loved my volunteer experiences and I look forward to continuing to learn and contribute as much as I can. Lyon Martin and UCSF are two completely different environments and I specifically wanted it this way. Hopefully by the time I **get in** to medical school I will have a firm understanding of whether I want to work in a hospital or a small clinic and what kinds of patients I am most comfortable interacting with. Now I just have to sit back, relax, and let the fun continue...

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