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HL20: Ellen Beck, MD—Giving Life to Hope in the Desert of the Underserved

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, December 13, 2012

For the students and Beck and of course the patients, those goals came together in 1997. What started as a classic grassroots effort became the UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project for the underserved in a beach area church, at first using money from student bake sales, along with university support.

"Everyone was baking muffins for the free clinic," she laughs. "And if we ran out of supplies, we'd hold another bake sale."

Fifteen years later, the clinic has expanded to four sites within San Diego, two of which run during off hours out of community churches and two in public elementary school buildings.

"Our students come in to medicine with passion and compassion," Beck says. "And programs like this keep those emotions alive. It gives them a sense of ownership and reminds them why they wanted to become doctors. They learn how to build relationships with their patients."

The clinics operate once or twice a week at each site, helping some 2,000 regular clients a year, 1,000 of whom receive medical care for chronic illnesses. Another 1,000 access the clinic's legal, social work, dental care, and acupuncture services provided by health professionals and students in the area. That's key to the program, Beck says.

Many of the patients receiving medical services also benefit from other types of assistance because, Beck says, providers need to treat the "whole" patient.

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