Doctors-in-training help fill healthcare gap

June 24, 2008 9:03:25 PM PDT
The government will release new numbers, showing that 54-million people, nearly one out of every five, had no health insurance last year. There are many programs trying to fill the gap. One in Camden, New Jersey, helps the uninsured, while helping the doctors prepare for their future.

Michelle Seddens doesn't have health insurance, but she does have a regular doctor, Tiffany Aline Hogan. Hogan is a doctor-in-training who volunteers at the Health Outreach Project, a clinic on the lower level of Camden's LEAP Academy charter school.

From the very beginning, Hogan was a lifesaver for Michelle. "I have high blood pressure," she said. "When I first came here, it was real, real high."

"I really feel?if she didn't come to this clinic, she would have had a massive stroke," Hogan said. She started Seddens on medication. Every patient at the clinic is paired with a third-year student from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. They see that doctor on every visit.

"The patient doesn't have to go over his or her history again, so there's continuity of care," said Nathan Samras, the clinic's student co-director.

Most community clinics connected to medical schools don't offer that luxury so sometimes a patient can get lost in the shuffle. Here the personal care helps both the patient and the student-doctor. The students are supervised by physicians from the medical school, but the young doctors handle most tasks themselves. That includes a big dose of the business-side of 21st century medicine.

They handle record-keeping, and help patients find specialists and low-cost prescription medications. The students said it's a real life lesson. "Like getting my patient to get a mammogram, and going through the hurdles, the hoops we have to jump to get this special test for my patient," said Hogan.

For other student-doctors, the clinic is helping them figure out what type of medicine they'd like to specialize in once they graduate. Tara Lautenslager said, "Sometimes you might encounter things for the first time so it's like emergency medicine but then with a lot of the chronic diseases we see, it's a lot like internal medicine."

Sedden's blood pressure is now under control and the student-doctors say treating chronic diseases like hypertension is where having a continual one-on-one, doctor-patient relationship really pays off. "We come up with goals, exercise, and diet plans," Hogan said. Sedden has lost seven pounds since her last visit.

The clinic can only take about 100 patients and right now is full. But it is helping to fill a gap in healthcare. Samras said many of the patients they see would not have anywhere else to get healthcare if it weren't for their clinic. Almost every medical school has a student-run clinic and more are adopting the one-on-one, patient-doctor approach.