“Never used the purple one before,” the student said.
If a doctor had taken Omar Maniya’s blood pressure, it would have been high. Maniya, 22, a first-year medical student at Georgetown University, had never seen a patient on his own until this February night. The place was his school’s student-driven, free clinic in a Southeast Washington homeless shelter, where the line often blurs between instructor and instructed.
The patient, unemployed and uninsured, kept the mood light. He has been to the Hoya Clinic so often that he’s chummy with the school’s dean.
“You want me to put in a good word for you?” the patient asked.
“I’d love if you could put in any word,” the doctor-to-be responded.
White-coated and wide-eyed, the medical students gain an intimate glimpse at the many faces of the District’s homeless and health-challenged. For the students, the clinic is practice. For the patients, many of whom live at the shelter, it’s an oasis.
On the three floors below the clinic, young children carry basketballs and single moms carry empty purses into converted hospital rooms at the old
D.C. General Hospital building.
Security guards in the lobby sweat in the muggy air as families mill about under missing ceiling tiles and dim lighting. The medical wing, funded by $100,000 in grants and private contributions in 2010, has sparkling blue linoleum floors and air-conditioned cool.
As Maniya talks to his patients, 12 other students are doing everything from greeting families to playing the game “Connect Four” with children in a playroom. The clinic, under the advisement of medical director Eileen Moore, saw 532 patients last year.
Moore has double- and triple-checked the students’ diagnoses since the clinic, which is available to anyone, opened for one night a week starting in September 2007. By the end of 2009, the demand for medical care had become so great that the clinic was opened for a second night.
Now, working out of a shelter with a full parking lot, they are considering adding a third.
The waiting room is filled with single women not much older than the medical students. Keviette Mack, 22, a mother of three, rocked her youngest child in a stroller, sitting next to a woman who was describing how the police had arrested and charged her after she was caught stealing $100,000 worth of jewelry.
“Don’t ever take anything that’s not yours,” the woman told Mack’s baby, his cheeks freckled with crumbs of Combos snacks.
Four months ago, Mack decided to leave her friend’s house because it had a mold problem. The shelter, she figured, would be more healthy. But to stay, she needed a tuberculosis shot.
Mack stuck out her left arm as a registered nurse watched a student gingerly inserting the tuberculosis shot for the first time.