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The Bay Area Reporter recently shared news of a fresh collaboration between the Pacific Center (the oldest LGBTQ center in the San Francisco Bay area) and the Suitcase Clinic (a humanitarian student organization based at the University of California, Berkeley).

Called the LGBTQI Suitcase Clinic, this new collaboration is a free, bi-weekly drop-in clinic that provides culturally competent medical care for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Intersex (LGBTQI) people—and two Schweitzer Fellows are the driving force behind it:

Leslie Ewing, executive director of the Pacific Center, said that the effort has been spearheaded by second-year UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program students Katharine Burmaster and Nicholas Orozco, in response to the health disparities impacting the local queer community and the lack of medical education around LGBTQI health needs.

“The [LGBTQI Suitcase Clinic] aims to provide a safe and respectful space for low-income and uninsured members of our community to access basic health care,” says Schweitzer Fellow Kate Burmaster.


“Lack of trust towards providers is a major barrier to providing members of the LGBTQI community with the critical health services they need,” Burmaster says. “Providers’ lack of understanding, awareness, and support around LGBTQ issues exacerbates this divide, and current medical education frameworks are not teaching future clinicians the skills they need to serve the LGBTQI community. Nick and I want to try to change that model.”

Burmaster and Orozco also want to build on existing services and resources for the East Bay LGBTQI community—and that’s exactly what they’re doing with their Schweitzer service project.

“We’ve learned from several Fellows how to involve clients in the development of the clinic, and have had other Schweitzer Fellows who are medical students working to provide administrative and service support at the clinic,” says Schweitzer Fellow Nick Orozco.

“The clinic aims to provide a safe and respectful space for low-income and uninsured members of our community to access basic health care and to empower clients to take control of their health,” Burmaster says.

As 2012-13 Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows and full-time medical students, Burmaster and Orozco aren’t just carrying out their Schweitzer service project. They’re also participating in The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF)’s monthly, reflective leadership programming—meetings and trainings that contextualize their service experience and enhance their ability to carry out interventions that improve the health status of underserved people.

“The input and advice we received from other Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows and our wonderful program director, Dale Ogar, has been invaluable,” Orozco says. We’ve learned from several Fellows how to involve clients in the development of the clinic, and have had other Schweitzer Fellows who are medical students working to provide administrative and service support at the clinic. This has been instrumental in getting the clinic up and running.”

“We also owe much of our success to our partners at the Pacific Center, the Berkeley Free Clinic, the Suitcase Organization, and our classmates at the Joint Medical Program,” Burmaster adds. “Forming these partnerships is one way we hope to sustain the clinic and expand our services.”

As the Bay Area Reporter noted, the clinic honors the legacy of the late Dr. Kevin Mack. Mack, who was a beloved professor in the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, was killed in a car accident in July of 2011. He was openly gay, and was committed to reducing disparities in health and health care among LGBTQI people.

“Kevin’s legacy as an advocate and inspirational example of a confident, brave, and successful LGBT health professional motivated Kate and I to start the LGBTQI Suitcase Clinic,” Orozco says. “In our short time together, he always made us feel welcomed, accepted, and proud. We strive to bring that same level of compassion and dedication to every client interaction.”

“One of the goals of Healthy People 2020 is the improvement of the health, safety, and well-being of LGBT persons,” Orozco adds. “I think this was a personal goal for Dr. Kevin Mack with every student, patient, and person he encountered.”

About one year ago, in an effort to better quantify the barriers faced by LGBT persons, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would include sexual orientation and gender identity in its health collection data for the first time.

“The fact that eliminating LGBT health disparities is now a national priority is a step in the right direction, and one that honors Kevin’s memory,” Orozco says.

Click here to learn more about the LGBTQI Suitcase Clinic.

Click here to read  a report on LGBT health disparities from the Center for American Progress.

Click here to learn more about the Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows Program and its work to create change and improve health in vulnerable communities by developing Leaders in Service.