P&S Journal: Spring 1994, Vol.14, No.2
Students Find Learning Beyond the Classroom
Health Care for the Homeless
On Friday afternoons, four students work with Dr. Brenda Merritt, assistant clinical professor
of medicine, to provide medical care to the homeless throughout Manhattan. This elective, offered
in cooperation with the Manhattan Bowery Corporation, presents students with a unique opportunity to provide health care to people
living on the street and in drop-in shelters. Students are trained to treat such challenges as leg infections, tuberculosis, psychoses, heart disease, diabetes, and pregnancy.
Arnob Banerjee, an M.D./Ph.D. student, says he likes the idea of seeking out people who would not ordinarily get medical care. Because he plans a career in research, he wanted clinical experience to give him a better professional balance. He says he was surprised that many of the people he encountered in the elective are coherent and knowledgeable about their needs.
"Dr. Merritt believes in the art of medicine," says Ms. Wirth. "We learn to do procedures the old-fashioned way, like percussing the lungs, something hospital-based physicians don't do. If there is a suspicion of water in the lungs, the patient is sent to radiology for an X-ray, but out in the field, the doctor must use basic techniques to gather information."
The students find this elective appealing because they are given significant clinical responsibility from the first day, when they assess the patient's condition and present their findings to Dr. Merritt, who then takes over. She conducts a thorough examination before explaining the diagnosis and treatment to the patient and the student.
"It is incredibly rewarding to provide direct care to those who need medical attention the most. Not only have I gained valuable skills, I have confronted my fears about seeing patients and gained confidence in my professional capability," says Ms. Wirth, who is planning a career in either oncology or emergency medicine.
The students come away with concrete skills and a deeper appreciation for the necessity of a multidisciplinary health care team in meeting the medical needs of a diverse population.