by Inanje Mintz

This Spring Break, I was fortunate enough to volunteer at the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic (NNFHC) in Kilmarnock, VA.  Working at the clinic was an incredible experience.  Our Branch Out group tackled the issue of providing healthcare in rural populations. Our social issue focused on filling the health care gap and providing efficient care to those who are low-income and uninsured.   The patients who visit the clinic are below the poverty level. The clinic is able to provide free doctor visits, free prescriptions and other medications, as well as dental care and surgery for a lifetime fee of $25.

Over the course of the week, I volunteered in different parts of the clinic. My first day consisted of volunteering in the Dental clinic and compiling patient folders.  Many of my days were spent destroying old patient charts and helping the clinic convert written records to electronic medical records. I was able to work in the Pharmacy and write down patient’s prescriptions for the pharmacist.

I also assisted with the business aspect of the clinic. A couple members of the group and I, helped with the clinic’s marketing campaign. We developed a presentation for the employers to use at donor meetings that explained the purpose, function, and importance of the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic.  One day, the employees at a clinic put on a panel where we could to ask questions about what it was like working at the clinic and the challenges that presented themselves by working at the clinic.

My favorite part of volunteering at the clinic was interacting with the patients, whether that was talking to them on the phone to remind them of their upcoming appointment or face-to-face contact during their appointment.  During the week we also shadowed the Nurse Practitioner. I saw many patients. The coolest part was when one of the nurses allowed me to perform a urine test. The patients at the clinic were very kind for letting us sit in during their appointments. It was so nice of them to open up to us and let us into their lives.  The patients were very supportive of us. They wished us luck in our future endeavors and encouraged us to go into the health field.  Working at the clinic made me realize that although people may come from different backgrounds, we are all humans who just want to live happy, healthy lives.

The trip very much related to my academic work and it was fascinating to see my studies in action. In human physiology, one of the labs focused on blood pressure. We learned that a healthy blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. One of the patient’s blood pressure was 176/106 mmHg and from lab, I knew she had hypertension.  A majority of the patients had hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.  Also, in my global health class, we studied the social determinants of health, which are conditions in which people are born with and live with.  The social determinants are shaped by the distribution of money, power, and resources and they shape the health care system. There are ten social determinants and every component was displayed during the service trip.  The first tenant of the social determinants is the social gradient, also known as social economic status. The lower one is on the social gradient, the smaller their income is.  Also, they are at a greater risk for developing a health condition/ a chronic illness. This is due to the fact that they might not have money to purchase insurance or go to the doctor or buy medication. It could also be due to the fact that they can’t purchase healthy foods or they don’t have time to exercise because they work multiple jobs.  Many of the patients were in this situation.

Our team became very close. It was nice to be around others who shared the same values as me, and who had a passion for public health.  At the end of the trip, we all went to the local beach, which was a nice bonding experience.

Being uninsured stems from an inadequate health care system that does not provide universal health care for each citizen, especially those who are low-income.  Because the patients at the clinic are uninsured, I honestly don’t know what they would do without the clinic. The United States really needs to work on increasing access to health care for low-income families and individuals. The Affordable Care Act  is a nice step, but  there are still a large number of uninsured Virginias who are not eligible for Medicaid, but who are not able to purchase insurance from private companies. My trip to the clinic has encouraged me to remain an active voice in increasing healthcare access to all, especially those with a lower social economic status, as well as promoting universal healthcare and educating people about our health care system.  This trip has inspired me to take action. After the trip, I wrote an email to the Virginia legislator, Senator Favola, and my delegate encouraging them to sign a bill that uses federal money to expand Medicare for uninsured Virginians.  I was so grateful to work at the Northern Neck Free Health clinic. I hope to work at another free Clinic this summer.