College of

Chris McNicoll at the Friendship Clinic

June 2011

Christopher McNicoll was a second-year medical student in East Lansing when he participated in the College of Human Medicine Service-Learning program in 2011. This is his story:

While a student at the College of Human Medicine, I hoped to participate in a meaningful community service activity. Thankfully, I found the Friendship Clinic, which provided me with the perfect combination of community service and clinical experience. At the Friendship Clinic, I contributed in a small way to the overall care of the poor and homeless of Lansing. I am grateful for the chance to hone my newly learned skills while assisting the downtrodden of my community. The Lansing community supports the medical school, and I hoped to repay this support through my volunteer work.  If possible, I would like to continue volunteering at the clinic in my 3rd and 4th year of medical school.

After spending more than 40 hours at the Ingham County Community Health Center, I feel that I have helped each patient I have seen. Though I am not adept at clinical skills or medical therapies just yet, I think that I comforted the sick by spending hours listening to patients tell their stories.  In this way, the marginalized and underserved patients discovered that someone actually cared for them, respected their humanity, and wanted them to be healthy. By giving thorough physical exams and providing reassurance, the patients I examined felt that someone cared for their well-being. In my last patient encounter at the Friendship Clinic, Dr. Han and I saw a patient with a traumatic brain injury who said that this was the most thorough exam he had been given.  This statement reminded me of the health care disparities present in the United States, and taught me the importance of treating each patient equally. I don’t want to inflate the responsibility that I had at the clinic, so I will only mention how glad I am to be given the opportunity to see how spending quality time in the patient’s room can translate into good patient care.

As a volunteer at the Friendship Clinic, I was able to see that the homeless and poor of Lansing were not one homogenous group. The people that came to the clinic were of diverse ethnicities and ages, and represented mothers, fathers, and workers.  Though some patients were unemployed, each patient brought a story of hardship and a desire for help. 

Each patient contact reminded me that any opinions and biases about substance abusers, poor people, and the unemployed were not useful in helping the patient in front of me. In fact, I was humbled several times when I did not complete a full history due to my assumptions gained from previous responses. I think that my experience at the Friendship Clinic enhanced my pre-clinical curriculum, in that I polished my patient-physician relationship and interviewing skills that began in the first semester.

It was disheartening to see the many people who needed psychiatric care and social work, but were unable to attain it due to financial constraints. Likewise, I was saddened to see how many people needed the safety net of the Ingham County Health Plan, and how it provided less than needed on many occasions. I saw firsthand how patients could not afford generic prescription co-pays, or even the $5 office visit co-pay at the clinic. People struggled to find rides to the clinic, and had difficulty getting to the labs to have their blood drawn. The instability of many patients’ home lives created some health problems and aggravated others. When I am in block III at CHM, a resident, and a practicing physician, I will remember lessons learned from the Friendship Clinic  Even if I can’t spend as much time with patients in the future as I have at the clinic, I will not forget to ask patients about their family life, occupation, and financial situation. I need to be sensitive to the costs of medical care for my patients, and I will try to learn about the social history of each patient I encounter.

The physicians that staff the Friendship Clinic on the weekend supplied me with sound advice, constructive criticism, and most importantly, acted as role models. As the gap between rich and poor in this country widens (exacerbated by the current economic recession), I was pleased to see MSU physicians donating their time to tend to the needy in our community. I know the patients at the clinic appreciate the medical care, and one day, I plan to support my community in this way as well. At this point in my education, the Friendship Clinic is a learning tool as well as a volunteer opportunity  Truly, the physicians that get nothing in return for their service are the authentic volunteers. These physicians embody the SCRIPT core competencies of CHM, and encourage medical students like me to exercise our professional responsibility to serve the community. The social responsibility exemplified by the physicians and staff encourage me to live out the SCRIPT competencies while in medical school and after graduation.  I believe it is my duty as a physician to provide medical care to those who need it, which means that at times I may not get reimbursed by those who cannot afford the service.

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