ROBERT SHIKINA / RSHIKINA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Third-year University of Hawaii medical student Cindy Ta, right, draws blood from Paiolu Kaiaulu shelter resident Shane Viernes in Waianae during a weekly visit by the medical school's mobile clinic.
Medical care on the move
A UH project provides health care to needy patients and hands-on experience to students
To University of Hawaii medical students staffing a mobile clinic, information about the patient's personal life may be as important as his symptoms.
In fact, third-year medical student Cindy Ta starts by asking the patient about where he has been and how he became homeless.
"They have families. A lot of them work," she said.
She is a volunteer at the medical school's mobile clinic, which serves residents at the Waianae homeless shelter Paiolu Kaiaulu.
UH students, staff and premed volunteers run the mobile clinic, providing free urgent health care on Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m.
Learning about patient backgrounds helps the students provide better health care by tailoring their service, said Jill Omori, director of the Homeless Outreach and Medical Education Project, which operates the mobile clinic.
"We encourage them to ask about all living situations," she said.
Doctors may not realize a patient is homeless, which can create problems when medicines need to be refrigerated or become lost, she said.
For Ta, the clinic trains her to work with patients who have a variety of needs.
"Our goal is to get them connected with health providers in the community so they have long-term health care," she said.
The mobile clinic, the second operated by the HOME project, opened in May. HOME's clinic in Kakaako serves residents at the Next Step shelter on Tuesdays.
Money for supplies comes from student fundraisers, a vending machine at the school and private donations.
During the clinics, students and premed volunteers gain hands-on experience with patient care and diagnosing patient ailments.
Christine Palermo, a third-year medical student, said working at the clinic is similar to being an intern, shadowing an attending physician.
After seeing the patient, Palermo makes a diagnosis, presents the case to the physician, and writes out a prescription.
She feels like their "actual doctor," she said.
While the mobile clinic, a former HandiVan, is too small to see all the patients, it carries supplies such as medicines and refrigerated vaccines and has an examination table and area for private examinations. Patients are seen in the back of the Waianae shelter.
Twenty patients are treated on an average visit, said Scott Harvey, a first-year medical student and clinic manager.
"It's great exposure to patient care," he said.
After four weeks working with the clinic, Ta still has not run into any ailments that the mobile clinic was not equipped to address.
"This van has everything," she said after treating patient Shane Viernes.
Viernes visited the clinic for a blood test to get treatment for gout.
"We think it's a great thing they come to us," he said.
After Ta finished drawing his blood, he said: "I think she was real professional. Maybe I'll marry one of them."