A Heart for the Homeless - White Coat Chronicles

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White Coat Chronicles is a blog written by third year Creighton University students Emily Allen and Ryan Saliga who train at CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center - Bergan Mercy. The blog chronicles their lives as students and as a young couple who plan to be married this summer.

I have been volunteering with Open Door Mission homeless shelter in Omaha for more than a year now.  It is a free clinic that is open twice a month and offers basic health services to anyone who needs them. It is run by Dale Agner, MD, of Clarkson Family Medicine and students from both Creighton University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center volunteer there. I love that students from both schools come together - united by a passion for service.

Our patients are usually residents of the shelter and some are involved in the substance abuse programs there. Their conditions range from colds to diabetic foot ulcers, to congestive heart failure to sepsis. We provide transportation to the emergency department if warranted and arrange follow-up care as needed. Dr. Agner describes it as an urgent care/triage center, and more often than not, it is controlled chaos.

Amid the chaos, there is beautiful combination of medicine and faith. We are encouraged to pray with the patients, and, to be honest, they often seem more thankful for prayer than for the medical services. Many of these patients have been battling the same medical conditions for years, and often they already have an established provider; however, the social situations they face can seem insurmountable and are too often much more devastating than any medical condition. When the patients come, we spend much of the visit listening – really listening - to stories about their life and their struggles. Patients come to us for support and love - we gladly offer both.

It occurs to me that human dignity is something we too often take for granted. These patients recount how people avoid them in the streets, or how they are ushered away from establishments. Our clinic is a place they know they can come and be welcomed, loved and listened to. We, as volunteers also feel the love from our patients and from one another. We have started prayer and fellowship nights to grow together as a team, pray for our patients, and process what we have seen and learned at the clinic.

I wish I could find the right words to tell you what an amazing learning opportunity this is for me as a student. I get to see, first-hand, the complicated social and medical interplay in the most difficult of circumstances, and I get to learn new things like ultrasound and other diagnostic techniques.

If Ryan and I remain in the U.S. to practice, I am very interested in pursuing street and homeless medicine. It is such a privilege to work with these people and to meet them where they are. Volunteering in this clinic has reaffirmed this for me time and time again.

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