COURTESY HOYA CLINIC The HOYA Clinic, located in a wing of the D.C. General hospital in southeast D.C. and run by medical student volunteers, serves people in need.

After the D.C. General Hospital in southeast Washington was converted into a homeless shelter in 2001, Georgetown University Medical Center students revived the building’s medical tradition by creating the first student-run clinic in D.C. in 2006.

The HOYA Clinic, established in the hospital’s east wing in 2006, serves a population desperately in need while simultaneously providing medical students with real-world experience. Nearly nine years after its founding, the clinic now serves as a model for a similar center set to open next month on the island of Antigua.

Boasting over 400 medical student volunteers, the HOYA Clinic uniquely depends entirely on medical students for its operation on the administrative side as well as in the exam rooms with patients. Having raised funds through GUMC aid, events, private donations and a grant from the Association of American Medical Colleges, all of the clinic’s services are free of charge, and they see patients of all age, regardless of insurance or immigration status. In addition to health assessments, the clinic offers wellness workshops on topics from nutrition to meditation to Zumba.

Caitlin Ingraham, a second-year medical student, serves as one of seven student coordinators. She works alongside other student volunteers, nurse practitioners and M.D. physicians to evaluate acute and chronic illnesses, administer vaccines for the human papillomavirus and sexually transmitted infections, provide general wellness physical exams and instruct patients in basic health education.

“For a lot of Georgetown medical students, it’s their first time being part of a medical team and being part of a clinical team that gets to see patients and learn about patients’ lives and then help patients to make medical decisions,” Ingraham said.

With its location in the city’s southeast quadrant, together with its proximity to the D.C. General homeless shelter, the clinic allows students to engage in social justice work while extending their education.

“I am incredibly interested and committed to social justice work and addressing health disparities and social and economic inequalities, and I think that being part of the HOYA Clinic is a way to engage in that and to start to use the skills I have and all of the infrastructure that is here at Georgetown to try to chip away at some of those issues,” Ingraham said.

Larick David, a first-year medical student volunteer, echoed Ingraham, pointing to the clinic’s toy drive over Christmas for children staying at D.C. General as an example of the center’s commitment to the community.

“The work that the students have been doing at HOYA Clinic has opened avenues for us to reach that community in other ways,” David said. “It’s not always health oriented, it’s ways to improve their lives in general and it goes back to the idea of cura personalis I’ve seen here at Georgetown.”
Antigua’s University of Health Sciences Chairman Deborah Robinson-Akande noticed the clinic’s work.

She approached GUMC Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Benjamin Walker in September 2013 with a proposal for students at the two schools to collaborate.

As the two talked, Walker realized that Antigua’s population was similar to the community to which the HOYA Clinic administers: composed of medically underserved individuals with big health problems ranging from diabetes to basic health education. The idea to build a clinic in Antigua modeled after the HOYA Clinic immediately sprang up; the clinic in that area of Antigua had closed a few years previously, leaving residents without easily accessible health services.

“[The] Jesuit identity Georgetown has is not just something on the website or a slogan or hanging from banners, it’s something that is really organic and palpable,” Walker said. “This is an example of that.”
The board of directors, composed of GUMC directors as well as faculty members from the University of Health Sciences in Antigua, described their vision of the Free Clinic at English Harbor becoming “a jewel in the ring of health clinics.”

They also believe it will advance the way medicine is practiced on the island, and they have hopes for an island-wide network of medical records.

“The health minister is really excited about it because we can collect data on incidence rates of [diseases],” Walker said. “That has never been done before.”

The collaboration could open further opportunities for students at the medical center.

“One of the big plans for us here at Georgetown is that when it’s up and running and the quality of the educational experience of the students is evaluated by our dean for international programs, then it would be great to have this as another international program offering,” Walker said.

Walker explained that the goals of both the Free Clinic at English Harbor and the HOYA Clinic were to integrate students into the fabric of the community to help the residents while seizing the opportunity to educate students in an interactive environment.

“That’s a strength of the medical education at Georgetown: we introduce you to the patient early and we teach you how to learn from the patient. That is extremely important,” Walker said. “You can be number one in your class all through undergrad. But there is always something you can learn from your patients. Because no matter how long you’ve been practicing medicine those patients have been in their bodies longer.”

Although it now serves as a model for the Antigua clinic, the HOYA Clinic is still continuing to develop its services, hoping to add dental treatments and mental health services to its repertoire. The clinic will also host two health insurance enrollment days for patients in the community this month.

“Those are big infrastructure things that go beyond what Georgetown medical students can provide but we are always seeking out new partnerships and new ways to build the services and the support structure we can provide for our patients,” Ingraham said.

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