A headshot of Tien Vu outside of Founders.

CCPA Summer Series 2022: The Clinic

By Tien Vu ’23

Funding Source: Primary Care Pre-Medical Internships

This past summer, I interned at The Clinic in Phoenixville, PA. The Clinic, founded in 2002, is a non-profit that provides medical care to uninsured and underserved folks. I primarily served clerical roles (helping with front desk and donor relations) and was able to observe how uninsured patients are often low-income, undocumented, from communities of color, and are frequently impacted by their lack of access to healthcare. There are many obstacles: finding an affordable doctor for office visits, school vaccinations, or scheduling time outside of work to drive to a free (but often far away) clinic that can provide medical services.

Additionally, the majority of The Clinic’s patients are Spanish-speaking, and the cultural and language barriers add to health disparities. The Clinic, in many ways, bridges the gap, since they have Spanish interpreters and many bilingual volunteers, sliding-scale payment, pay-what-you-can-afford options, and weekly medical specialist volunteers who can see patients as well (cardiologist, urologist, neurologist, etc.). The Clinic also provides prescription scripts, medications, and referrals to external partner hospitals or sites for additional medical care.

Interning at the Clinic has given me valuable exposure to working alongside nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel, as well as time interacting with Spanish-speaking patients. Many patients have just recently immigrated and are not familiar with English, let alone the United States’ customs surrounding medicine and healthcare. What is considered standard in medicine may not be the same from one country to another. Thus, office visits can be out of the comfort zone for many patients. I had the opportunity to hone my communication skills in many ways: applying Spanish to a medical setting, familiarizing patients to expected customs in the American healthcare environment (bringing and filling out paperwork, financials), and also reporting information to nurses and doctors to be added to charts. Much information can be lost in translation from one language or one country to another, and so ensuring patient communication, understanding, and collaboration is essential.

The Clinic looks to improve and expand many of its current services. Recently they have added therapy/behavioral health, and are looking forward to transforming their charting system. The past 20 years have been physical, paper charts, and while currently there is an online information system, most patient information is still in paper charts. This has created some challenges as I’ve observed: there are often prepared charts beforehand for the day’s scheduled patients, but walk-ins or other unexpected scenarios happen. Finding the correct patient chart, other physical paperwork, and assembling/organizing this can be time-consuming and lengthen the wait. I believe centralizing the patient chart system will be important to continuity and quality of care in the future.

This experience has strengthened my interest in population health and practicing medicine as praxis. Closely interacting with both patients and medical personnel has been invaluable to my growth and learning, and I’m looking forward to being more involved in medical care for the underserved.