Student Perspective: Helena

December 1, 2016

Barriers.  We face them every day here at the Clinic when we provide care to those in need.  These barriers to care can be internal or external.  They can be chosen or forced upon.  Though many deal with them, each individual has their own complexity of barriers that must be assessed.  Our November pharmacy extern, Helena, focused her time with Health Partners tackling these very personal issues and came out the other end of the 30-day experience with a new perspective.  She was kind enough to share her new insight in this month’s Student Perspective:


As James E Faust said, “the thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us.” In November, we celebrate Thanksgiving and really reflect on what we are thankful for as the holiday season starts.  This month, I have realized how much I have to be thankful for but especially for the opportunity to have a rotation here at Health Partners Free Clinic surrounded by so many amazing individuals who taught me so much every single day.

Thinking back to when I decided to sign up for a rotation with Health Partners Free Clinic, I had no idea what to expect at all other than several colleagues before me telling what a great rotation this is to have.  From the beginning, I was curious what it meant to be a free clinic and how it worked and what went on and what type of patients we cared for.  On day one, Justin showed me around answering all of these questions, making me feel at home and helping me to start gathering an understanding of the clinic, what it is, why it is here and how we do what we do.  To be honest, it was a lot to take in; I figured I’ll just take each day as it comes learning more and more and gathering a true understanding and appreciation for what is going on around me.

While here, every day, I saw outstanding care being given by such compassionate caregivers who were so willing to teach, explain, and discuss everything and anything.  Through my time here, I got to do so much more than I probably would’ve anywhere else–what other student pharmacist do you know that has taken out a patient’s sutures? After a while, even with such outstanding care, I began to see several barriers in front of our patients.  The first barrier being obvious from day one: affordability be that through cost of care or insurance.  Coming to a free clinic that’s what most would assume; once we provide this free care to patients, shouldn’t we see them sprinting to that door?  As days passed and several patients were missing appointments, I began to take note of reasons patients were not making it to the clinic. As Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren stated, “In the minds of many people, they often equate affordability with access, when in reality there are all kinds of reasons why people can’t get the care that they need when they need it.”

It really started to hit me when I did my journal club article on barriers to patients receiving preventive screenings introducing a great conversation of possible barriers for patients.  Realizing that these include patients’ naivety in the importance of receiving care, not wanting to find out their problems, the stigma over certain tests and treatments, child care, the time away from other responsibilities such as work to make it to the clinic, etc.  From there coming to realize that these patients have countless barriers.  Every day I would hear of a patient that didn’t have transportation.  It was starting to get cold; patients couldn’t keep walking or riding their bikes miles to the clinic.  There are services for patients; however, for many of these, they need to be scheduled 2-3 weeks in advance–when something goes wrong and you need to get to the doctor or you run out of medication, you don’t always have 2-3 weeks.  Or what about our patients who might not have access to money or they need to keep that money for food and clothes, they cannot pay for these services.  Or there is transportation provided by some insurance companies that leave patients stranded at the clinic all day waiting and will only transfer them back home eliminating the possibility to pick up food or clothes or even visit the pharmacy for their prescription medications.

The day before Thanksgiving, we saw one of our regular patients; while there for only about 2.5 weeks thus far, I had already gotten to know this patient from seeing them multiple times.  This patient is one of the most grateful patients I have ever met making me realize why I love what I get to do.  That day, after the check-up, we realized the individual didn’t have proper footwear causing this last visit; he was wearing sandals offering inadequate foot coverage and falling apart completely losing their soles.  Instead of admitting that that was all he had, he was so modest in saying he loved his sandals.  From there, with Joann’s direction, we decided that he needed a new pair of shoes to help him safely get around that would also provide coverage from the inclement weather.  When we brought them to him, his gratitude and smile were so contagious.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “I am grateful for what I am and have.  My thanksgiving is perpetual.” This patient exemplified this statement.

What I realized while at the clinic is that I am truly blessed. I have a wonderful family who has supported me throughout my entire life and a father who works so hard to give us a good life.  I have talent and a desire to do and learn so much more.  I have the ability to help those in need through a listening ear, healthcare, as well as any other material needs.  I am blessed to work with such amazing people. I am constantly surrounded by blessings and thankful that this patient with so many barriers helped me realize how important it is to recognize these.

Thank you to Health Partners Free Clinic, its patients, staff, volunteers, caregivers, donors, board for maintaining such an amazing, inviting clinic.  I am grateful for all of you and all that you have taught me.