UWSOM Spokane Students Serve Community

November 24, 2020
Conor Linehan is no stranger to the needs of the population served at the Union Gospel Mission (UGM). He grew up in Spokane, and prior to starting his medical education at the UW School of Medicine (UWSOM), he'd volunteered at the shelter.

"My brother recommended I volunteer at UGM," he said. "So, I did during my gap year. It's important to give back to people who are going through a rough patch."

Now, the second-year medical student serves as director of UW School of Medicine-Spokane's Homeless Outreach and inter-Professional Education (HOiPE) group.

Group members serve at UGM's Saturday clinic, or at the Providence House of Charity Medical Clinic. They can also choose to volunteer in health education, presenting on informative outreach topics like wound care, high blood pressure, or hepatitis.

Linehan is relishing the learning opportunity his volunteer hours provide--and so are many other UWSOM-Spokane students.

"Since starting back up again our volunteer sign-up sheet has been filled," he said. "When we get caught up in studying 60 hours a week, it's easy to lose track of how our academic work translates into clinical experience."

Following stringent Covid-19 protocols ensures students, staff and patients stay as safe as possible during this pandemic.

In addition to helping those in need, student service hours offer a welcome opportunity to connect with cohorts.

"Most of our classes are online, so this is a great way to bond with fellow students," Linehan said. "You can arrive at a clinic with a bunch of questions and be ready to learn."

Faculty advisor Dr. Rocky Kerr appreciates the enthusiasm and energy these students bring.

Through his work with students at the UGM clinic, Kerr knows what to expect from his student volunteers.

"These are incredibly bright, service-oriented students," he said.

At the UGM Saturday clinic, Kerr typically has four to eight UW medical students who serve in groups of two.

"I let them do the patient intake and history, and have them present the patient’s history and the findings on the physical examination to me at the bedside," Kerr said.

He strives to ensure the time students spend in the clinic is stress-free.

"The first thing I tell them is there are no right or wrong answers," he said. "I want them to feel comfortable in their clinical experience."

Patients at the UGM clinic typically come in for help with chronic health issues like high blood pressure or diabetes.

"I try to let the students do as much as they can so they can maximize this opportunity and take advantage of the learning experience," Kerr said.

The student service group recently resumed volunteering at Providence House of Charity, and Linehan who volunteered there last year, said that clinical experience differs a bit from UGM.

"Students fill out an application and then are assigned a time to come in once a month," he explained.

While UGM schedules appointments for residents of the shelter, the House of Charity allows anyone to come in during clinic hours. This results in a wide array of clinical experiences for the volunteers.

"Last year I saw a patient with severe frostbite and a patient with a pretty bad dog bite," Linehan said.

Education is equally as important as clinic hours to HOiPE's mission. UWSOM-Spokane student Chloe Nelson serves as one of two Health Education leads.

"I'm passionate about working with the homeless population, especially in health education," she said.

Nelson had worked in this field as an AmeriCorps volunteer prior to medical school.

"Education is an essential part of medicine," she said.

The group has hosted blood pressure screenings, and staffed information tables on topics like hypothermia, hepatitis and skin cancer.

Adapting to pandemic guidelines, they even hosted an outdoor presentation at the House of Charity, where they gave out hand sanitizer.

"It's a great way to be involved in the community and to reflect on why I'm going into medicine," Nelson said.

Sentiments like that encourage experienced physicians like Kerr.

"In my opinion, the service aspect is the best part of medicine," he said.

Linehan agreed.

"As a member of the Spokane community, I really want to give back," Linehan said. "It's great to be able to do that while honing my clinical skills."