Dozens of people swarmed the hallways, most of them homeless army veterans, at Pacific Beach’s Methodist Church to receive primary care. Here men, women, and children of all ages can get the healthcare that over 25% of San Diego’s population do not have access to because they lack health insurance.
With 2/3 of the San Diego population at or near the poverty level ($26,500), the University of California San Diego’s Student-Run Free Clinic is able to provide a wide range of medical services for those in need. UCSD students in the medical, pharmacy, pre-dental, acupuncture, public health, social work, and other pre–health professions are involved in the effort of providing well-rounded and high-quality service to San Diego’s residents.
The UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project is one of approximately 24 student-run clinic programs in the nation, three of which are located in San Diego. The program was started by Dr. Ellen Beck, Clinical Professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UCSD, who partnered with a UCSD pre-med student who had served at the Suitcase Clinic in Berkeley, California. Through this collaboration, three San Diego clinics arose as a result, located in the communities of Pacific Beach, Mountain View, and downtown San Diego
A typical day in a clinic begins with new patient screenings by the attending physician. (Only those who cannot afford healthcare and who do not qualify for services such as Medi-Cal or CMS may be given care at the clinics.) Patients are then examined and asked questions on their medical history. If necessary, patients will be submitted to various tests in order to detect any abnormalities. In the end, the clinic will provide the patient any medications needed, free of charge. In cases where a certain clinic is impacted and cannot see any more patients, physicians will refer the patient over to the San Ysidro Community Health Clinic or the Healthcare for the Homeless Program in San Diego.
At the Pacific Beach location, patients mainly suffer from conditions like hypertension, spinal problems, hepatitis C, and other physical and psychological afflictions. Many patients, especially veterans, feel they cannot go elsewhere because they lack the insurance, money, and time to be attended elsewhere. “They’ve saved my life twice already,” said patient and advocate James Kahelin, “If it weren’t for these types of places I wouldn’t even be getting health care period. Many of us would probably be dead.” During my visit, patients and health care providers at the Pacific Beach clinic looked comfortable and in harmony with each other even in such a busy location. The health practitioners’ attentiveness to the treatment and overall well-being of their patients was apparent. When asked, Chris Rafie, a first year medical student and pulmonary specialty clinic manager said, “The most rewarding thing about working here is being able to be there for somebody. I remember asking a very sick patient about who she spoke to about her problems and her response was ‘only God.’ It’s important to be there for them.”
Places like the UCSD Free Clinics have impacted the lives of thousands of San Diegans. In just the first 10 years the clinics have provided no-cost healthcare to over 7,500 people. Currently, the clinics have approximately 2,500 active patients and are funded by UCSD, grants, foundations, and other donors.
The Student-Run clinics are located at:
*Baker Elementary School, 4041 T Street, San Diego, CA 92113 – Hours: Tuesdays 1:00 pm-5:00 pm
*First Lutheran Church 1420 Third Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101 – Hours: Mondays 5:30 pm-10:00 pm
*Pacific Beach United Methodist Church, 1561 Thomas Street, San Diego, CA 92109 – Hours: Wednesdays 5:30 pm-9:30 pm.
For more information about the services offered or how you can volunteer, please call the UC San Diego Student-Run Free Clinic at (858) 534-6110.
Elizabeth Terrazas is a public information intern with the Comprehensive Research Center in Health Disparities (CRCHD). She is majoring in Biological Anthropology with a minor in Health Care-Social Issues at UC San Diego. The CRCHD is a partnership of organizations focusing on community health and health disparities research. This publication was supported by the UC San Diego Comprehensive Research Center in Health Disparities Grant # 5 P60 MD000220 from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institutes of Health.