For some students at the Georgetown School of Medicine overwhelmed with labs and lectures, a day spent volunteering at Georgetown’s Hoya Clinic in Southeast D.C. can be just what the doctor ordered.

“When med school and basic sciences and exams get really frustrating and stressful, doing things like the Hoya Clinic remind us why we’re here and why we love medicine,” Neelam Khan (MED ’15), a participant in the program, said.

Open Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the volunteer-staffed Hoya Clinic allows students to gain hands-on experience working with uninsured and homeless patients.

The clinic first opened in September 2007 in D.C. Village, a homeless shelter, but relocated to the site of the former D.C. General Hospital when the shelter closed three months later.

Since opening, the clinic has served over 1,700 people, according to the clinic’s 2010 annual report. Last year, volunteers saw 784 patients at the clinic.

The School of Medicine requires students to engage in at least 20 hours of volunteer service before graduation, and the Hoya Clinic has become a popular way for aspiring doctors to serve their community.

Khan, who has volunteered twice at the clinic, noted that first- and second-year students often have limited opportunities to gain clinical experience, which further attracts them to the idea of volunteering. According to the clinic’s 2010 annual report, the majority of students who helped at the clinic were in their first and second years of medical school.

“Hoya Clinic is essentially the place where first-year medical students at Georgetown can get a taste of independence as student physicians in learning to apply [their] skills,” Khan said.

Typically, students interview and examine the patient for 20 to 30 minutes and present their findings to third- or fourth-year students or the attending physician, who provides them with feedback.

Omar Maniya (COL ’11, MED ’15) described his first stint at the clinic as nerve-wracking but exhilarating.

“That was my first time being alone in a room with a patient,” he said. “It’s different to do it by yourself with no one to ask [for help].”

Eileen Moore, a professor of medicine and director of the clinic, supervised Maniya during his sessions at the clinic. She noted that even though students are battling a learning curve, patients are still thankful for the treatment they receive.

“I think patients appreciate the fact that everyone is there because they want to be there, and I think that sense of caring very much comes across in the course of the patient visit,” she said.

Moore added that the clinic helps ensure that Georgetown students develop an awareness of more general health care issues in the United States.

“It’s one thing to teach a medical student about disparities in health care, lack of access to health care, chronic conditions going awry for lack of health care,” she said. “It’s an entirely different matter for that medical student to confront those realities face-to-face.”

Maniya said that the lack of health care available to uninsured patients can often lead to larger problems later on.

“From an overall holistic point of view, this is a lose-lose for the healthcare system because [the patients] are the people who end up in the [emergency room] with preventable things that could have been solved in a much cheaper fashion,” Maniya said. He hopes that the treatment he and his fellow students provide could prevent patients from developing more serious and expensive health issues.

Because the number of patients is steadily increasing, the clinic is contemplating adding a third night of service. Even with an increased patient base, Moore said that student support for the clinic highlights the character of Georgetown medical students.

“There’s a certain synergy that happens when you take a bright, enthusiastic, energized medical student and put that person in a room with the patient,” she said. “The care of the whole person is not something we put on the wall here; it’s something we really strive to live and breathe in our practice and I think this is the embodiment of that.”

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