Stephanie Liou ’13 began volunteering at a Cardinal Free Clinic as a way to convince her mother that she wasn’t cut out for the medical field but soon realized that she was wrong. Within a few months, Liou had found her calling.
Organized by the Stanford School of Medicine, the Cardinal Free Clinics provide free and immediate health care to low-income adults who would otherwise not be able to receive it. The Pacific Free Clinic, founded in 2003, was created in response to the success of the Arbor Free Clinic, founded in 1990. Both clinics also give aspiring health care and public service students a chance to interact directly with underinsured patients and learn from physicians.
Liou, an aspiring medical care professional, now volunteers at the Pacific Free Clinic on a regular basis.
“Through volunteering at a clinic, I realized that there is absolutely nothing else I would rather do with my life,” Liou said. “We believe that everyone has the right to quality medical care and that there is nothing more meaningful than learning through hands-on experience and serving others.”
Free services at the clinic range from health screenings and medications to specialty care and health education. Students, including undergraduates, graduates and post-doctoral scholars, are largely responsible for running the services. Through the effort and commitment of these students, the clinics are able to reach out to underserved adults in several locales, including San Jose and the South Bay.
“Our volunteers understand the very real need for high-quality health care for low-income patients,” said David Purger, a second-year medical student and manager of the Pacific Free Clinic. “It is wonderful to see new volunteers mature in their roles at the clinic and realize that their work, whether that means checking in patients at the front desk in the morning, drawing blood for lab tests or counseling on diet and exercise, can and often does mean the difference between sickness and health for our patients.”
Due to limited funding, the clinics operate only one day a week, but most of their success takes place outside open hours. And in the face of scant supplies, both clinics try to deliver more comprehensive patient care.
“We are fortunate to have grants, but that said, we are still a free clinic,” said Amrapali Maitra, a medical student and manager of the Arbor Free Clinic. “We generally strive to provide immediate care of acute conditions, but we also look toward the larger goal of overall, long-term health improvement and to ensure access for our patients to primary-care homes or referrals if needed.”
Although the program is relatively small Free Clinics has left an undeniable impact on the lives of both the patients and the volunteers, including to students like Liou.
Liou says she continues to be humbled by the gratefulness and optimism of her patients, including one woman who had not seen a doctor in more than six years before she stepped into the Pacific Free Clinic.
“I will never forget one patient who had to wait over half an hour for a blood test due to an unfortunate paperwork error on our part,” Liou said. “Instead of complaining or expressing any impatience, she smiled. In the Stanford bubble, it can be so easy to get caught up in the little stressors — poor performance on a midterm, pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper, getting rejected from an internship — but the clinic is where I go to remind myself of the more important things in life.”