Let’s get clinical

After a long day of studying, CUSOM’s student-run clinic is my reward

“In the nine months I’ve been volunteering, I’ve been thrilled to realize how much I actually can do for a patient,” writes Claire Unruh, OMS II.


“Señora, necesito escuchar el corazón—¿puede por favor levantar la cama?” The Spanish-speaking woman in front of me smirked, but gamely lifted her shirt up so that my classmate could listen to her heart. As he listened, she suggested that next time, perhaps use the word “blouse” instead of the Spanish for “bed.” Oops.

That evening, I was volunteering at the Campbell University Community Care Center after a long day of classes and studying. Medical school is hard. Really hard. Although I’ve dedicated the last 10 years of my life to getting here, sometimes it’s difficult to remember why. My friends from college are buying houses, earning money and enjoying hours of free time every day. Meanwhile, I’m usually either stuck in a lecture hall or studying, with little opportunity to see my efforts come to fruition.

But when I volunteer at the Campbell University Community Care Center, my grueling schedule and the hours spent packing countless facts into my brain suddenly make sense. I’m learning how to help patients who need medical care, but I can help them right now, as a student.

Founded by students from the inaugural class of the Campbell University Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine in Buies Creek, North Carolina, the student-run clinic has served 90 unique patients since opening in March. All patient care, including consults, prescriptions and lab tests, is completely free, supported by volunteers and several grants. Each Tuesday evening, in teams, medical students and pharmacy students see patients and present their findings to an attending. The student team and the attending work together to diagnose the patient and come up with treatment options. If the waiting room is full, it can mean late nights for everyone involved.

The late nights are absolutely worth it, however. In the nine months I’ve been volunteering, I’ve been thrilled to realize how much I actually can do for a patient and the care team. I can now take a complete patient history, correctly write out prescriptions, and present the case to the attending. It’s exciting when I make a correct diagnosis without prompting from the physician! I can also do all this in two languages: English and Spanish.

When I first started volunteering, though, there was a lot I didn’t know. One of the first evenings, a woman showed up with a small facial wound, and the attending quizzed me on the characteristics of Clostridium tetani, the bacteria that cause tetanus. My tentative response was, “Um … rusty nails?”

As students, we attend lectures on medical malpractice and are reminded that mistakes can be costly and even fatal. As a result, we’re often terrified to make any mistakes at all. We assume that to make a mistake is to fail.

But this is a misguided assumption. We’re human. We’re students, and we’re still learning. Working at the clinic under an attending provides a safe space to be put on the spot, get it wrong, learn why we were wrong, correct our mistake and then help treat the patient.

Of course, none of the mistakes we as student doctors make in the clinic are translated onto our patients. Any forgotten facts or incorrect diagnoses are caught by the attending, corrected, and explained before there’s any chance that they will impact patient care.

Working at the clinic has also reminded me that though medical school is a long trek through hundreds of lectures and dozens of exams, I chose the right path.

Also, I’m proud to report that the next time I saw a Spanish-speaking patient, I used the correct word for “blouse!”

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