One year later through medical student eyes
At 12 years old Nadia Khan learned she had Type 1 diabetes, which meant a whole new lifestyle to maintain her health. It was a life-changing diagnosis in more ways than one.
“I was shaking, really terrified, and a medical student grabbed my hand and stabilized it while he was checking my blood glucose,” Nadia recalls, “and from that moment forward, I saw health care workers as more than just providing health but also providing compassionate care. That was the moment I knew what I wanted to do.”
Now, Nadia is 23 and a first-year medical student in Creighton University’s School of Medicine in Phoenix. She’s among the initial cohort of students to benefit from the school’s first year of partnership with St. Vincent de Paul’s Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic after a $10 million investment in 2021 from Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust made the collaboration possible.
Creighton faculty and third- and fourth-year medical students have long volunteered at SVdP’s charity clinic. Thanks to Piper Trust’s gift, the clinic now serves as the primary teaching facility for first- and second-year medical students, as well. Such early clinical experience is rare for medical students. That aspect of the partnership is something that attracted first-year student Aurora Rodriguez, 24.
“It just exposes you to medical diagnoses and problems within health care that you wouldn’t be able to get exposed to until you’re in the field later on, possibly as a resident, even as an attending,” Aurora says. “It’s a really amazing opportunity that we get to see those things right now just as first-year medical students here at Creighton.”
“It just exposes you to medical diagnoses and problems within health care that you wouldn’t be able to get exposed to until you’re in the field later on.”
– Aurora Rodriguez, 24, first-year medical student
The Creighton University Health Sciences Campus – Phoenix brings a four-year medical school, and programs in nursing, occupational therapy and pharmacy in fall 2021, with programs coming in physician assistant studies and physical therapy to the comprehensive health sciences campus. With the opening of the Phoenix health sciences campus, Creighton University is the largest Catholic health professions educator in the nation.
Currently Creighton medical, nursing and pharmacy students volunteer together to serve patients at SVdP’s Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic. Soon Creighton physician assistant, occupational therapy and physical therapy students will serve at the clinic as well.
While students gain early clinical experience, they also offer medical help to uninsured patients who might otherwise go without care if it weren’t for the charity clinic and medical professionals who volunteer there. Having access to care relieves some of the burden that too often falls on emergency rooms when patients delay or forgo treatment out of financial constraint. That unfortunate but understandable decision strains the healthcare system and the pockets of uninsured patients who already struggle to afford health care in the first place, let alone emergency room bills. The clinic partnership helps prevent this strain while offering earlier, more preventative care.
Better education, better system of care, better patient outcomes.
The original vision of the partnership has already come to life. Since Creighton’s partnership, hospital readmission for uninsured patients treated at SVdP’s Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic is just 3.4 percent, far lower than the national average of 11.5 percent.
“I think one of the things that has amazed me that I didn’t necessarily expect was the kindness and the resilience of the patients that we see,” Nadia says. “They work so hard, and they don’t have the same opportunities that maybe I have, or my peers have. And still, somehow, they manage to survive, and they still manage to open their hearts and be so kind and understanding even of the fact that we’re learning, and we don’t necessarily know everything.”
“I think one of the things that has amazed me that I didn’t necessarily expect was the kindness and the resilience of the patients that we see. They work so hard, and they don’t have the same opportunities that maybe I have, or my peers have.”
– Nadia Khan, 23, first-year medical student
“I knew we’d be able to serve people and be able to learn from wonderful physicians,” Aurora says. “But just in my short time rotating here and volunteering here, I have learned a lot of insight just from the patients and the type of holistic care that we want to give in communities.”
On Aurora’s first day volunteering in the clinic, a patient needed an organ transplant but did not qualify for the donor list. Aurora learned that day of the difficult but necessary conversations physicians must have with patients and how to approach such moments with compassion.
“It was a very eye-opening experience to see the types of challenges people face in health care when they lack certain resources,” she says.
Since that day she’s spent many clinic hours shadowing Dr. Tina Younger, MD, Creighton University School of Medicine clinical science director.
“It’s not just about giving a diagnosis or refilling their pills,” Aurora says. “[Dr. Younger] really goes above and beyond to see, ‘Ok does this patient have enough to pay for medications. Let’s look at this website and see which pharmacy offers them the cheapest.’ She goes above and beyond for the little details like: Is it close to home? Do they have transportation to go to the lab or the X-ray? That has been such a wonderful opportunity to learn from that because it really is so much more than just giving a medical service. It’s really taking care of the patient in a special way.”
At the heart of the operations is Dr. John Anwar, MD, who has served at the helm of the partnership this past year and was recently named the inaugural Virginia G. Piper Chair of Medicine at Creighton University and Chief Medical Officer at SVdP’s Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic.
“When these students graduate, they will be far ahead of their peers at other institutions, getting a very unique clinical experience years before many medical students are even out of the classroom,” Dr. Anwar says. “These graduates will become ambassadors for the community, as they have already done so much to care for the people in it.”
“When these students graduate, they will be far ahead of their peers at other institutions, getting a very unique clinical experience years before many medical students are even out of the classroom. These graduates will become ambassadors for the community, as they have already done so much to care for the people in it.”
– Dr. John Anwar, Creighton Virginia G. Piper Chair of Medicine and SVdP Chief Medical Officer
Nadia, who serves as the clinical coordinator for the first-year class, has already felt that community connection to her patients, especially as she shares personal understanding of what it's like to live with diabetes — a condition prevalent among the uninsured, low-income, and predominantly Hispanic patients seen at the clinic.
“I had an experience where there was a woman with Type 2 diabetes, and she was nervous because her blood glucose was very high,” Nadia shares. “I had the opportunity to check her blood glucose and her hand was shaking just like mine back when I was 12.
“To me, I thought, ‘I finally did it,’” Nadia continues. “‘I finally managed to reach this point where I can hold somebody’s hand and I can provide comfort while checking their blood glucose.’”
Coming full circle is beyond fulfilling for Nadia. It’s a passion and a career that she hopes to carry forward in her community much like Dr. Anwar does.
“As soon as I met him, I thought ‘I want to be him one day,’” Nadia says. “That’s my dream — to come back to this clinic and hopefully one day be able to direct it and work here.”
“That’s my dream — to come back to this clinic and hopefully one day be able to direct it and work here.” – Nadia
And that’s the bigger goal and real change the partnership visionaries hope for as well — a next generation of compassionate physicians for the Valley, who will improve access to care and grow a network of medical professionals transforming the health care landscape and lives of thousands of uninsured patients in Arizona.
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