A headshot of Naomi outside.

CCPA Summer Series 2022: Quality Improvement at Petaluma Health Center

By Naomi Komatsu ’24

Funding Source: Primary Care Pre-Medical Internships

This summer I spent July volunteering at Petaluma Health Center, a non-profit, community-based Federally Qualified Health Center in Sonoma County, California. The clinic predominantly serves uninsured and underserved patients living in the area, providing a sliding-scale payment option for patients living under the poverty line. The clinic mainly provides primary care, as well as dentistry, optometry, acupuncture, chiropractors, and behavioral health, including nutrition and exercise classes. Going into this internship, I was very excited to be volunteering in a clinic that provides access to many different forms of health care that are often incredibly hard for low-income and non-English speaking patients to access. Additionally, I appreciated the clinic’s goal of making non-traditional forms of medicine, particularly acupuncture, accessible to patients.

My main role in the clinic was volunteering on the Quality Improvement team. I worked directly with medical assistants, the quality improvement coordinator, and the healthcare providers working on specific projects to improve patient outcomes. The clinic is very focused on preventative care, so the quality team works to study patient metrics and work with providers on how to address certain health issues. One of the projects I worked on with the team was a hypertension health equity pilot. Every day I would use the electronic medical record system to look for the patients who were coming in for appointments that also had a history of uncontrolled hypertension. When they arrived, I would go to their room while they were waiting for their provider and give them a graphic detailing the various social determinants of health that could be contributing to their high blood pressure. I asked them to circle the items that they experience, including homelessness/housing insecurity, toxic stress, poor access to food, and racism, among many other options, so that their provider could talk to them about these issues and try to come up with a plan to improve their health. I enjoyed the experience of talking to patients a lot, and I most eagerly participated in these projects to improve patient care.

I’m an anthropology major and health studies minor, so many of the classes I have taken at Haverford felt relevant to this internship. In particular, last semester I took “Radical Medicine,” a class that focused on physician-anthropologists’ work with various medically underserved groups, including prisoners and migrant workers. In this class, as well as others, we talked a lot about the various social determinants of health issues. For example, there is a very high correlation between stress and hypertension, and Black Americans are more likely to suffer from hypertension than members of other races.

At the clinic, I also spent a day shadowing a primary care physician and another day attending a didactic seminar for the nurse practitioner residents at the clinic. From these experiences, my interest in working at a community health center was fueled. All the people I interacted with at the clinic were passionate about the work that they do through the clinic to help people in their community, and I am excited about continuing on a path towards a career in medicine.