Time to Team Up

By: Erica Smith

While driving away from HOMES Clinic, an unusual mixture of emotions swells inside me. I notice happiness from sharing conversations in the Beacon and excitement from treating grateful patients. I feel sadness from hearing the challenges of homelessness, accompanied by a sense of determination to address this widespread issue beyond the medical sphere. I think to myself, “What can I do to end homelessness?”

The first time I served at HOMES Clinic as a clinical student, I began the Sunday morning with a bit of nervousness. Being six weeks into third year, I had only completed an Ob/Gyn rotation. With such little experience, I wondered how I would lead the HOMES Clinic team to develop the best possible assessment and plan.

Upon entering Room 1 to prepare for the first patient, I was quickly followed by two pre-clinical medical students and a pharmacy student. “Hi y’all, my name is Erica. I’ll be the clinical student for this room,” I announced. As the other students introduced themselves, I began to feel more at ease. We talked about our different schools and experiences while waiting for the first patient to arrive.

The remainder of the day progressed in a similar manner—at ease and full of dialogue. During the first patient’s history and physical, we worked as a team to create a full assessment. One of the medical students elicited a thorough story from our patient, using questions to fill in any blanks. The pharmacy student deduced the patient’s previous medication based on its purpose and a description of the pill itself. The medical student who performed the physical exam helpfully reported pertinent findings as he worked. Once the patient left the room, we discussed our assessment and plan as a group, working together to optimize the patient’s treatment plan. While I typed the plan we generated, I realized my nervousness had completely vanished throughout the encounter. With a well-equipped team like this, I felt confident that our patient was receiving the best possible care.

My initial interest in HOMES Clinic stemmed from the opportunity to serve those in need, interact with patients, and learn from mentors. However, upon reflecting on my time at HOMES Clinic, I have identified further invaluable lessons from volunteering with this organization. Foremost, HOMES Clinic enables personal interactions with those who are experiencing homelessness. The conversations about daily life and interests are pivotal for understanding the challenges of homelessness and inspiring change in the community.

I have also found that HOMES Clinic provides an exemplary model of how medicine should be practiced in the real world—as a team. The clinic experience enables students from University of Houston College of Pharmacy, Baylor College of Medicine, and McGovern Medical School to learn from each other and develop important skills for working in an interdisciplinary team. This lesson of teamwork especially stands out in the context of homelessness; what better way to address such a pressing and complex issue than as a team? Through teamwork within the community, solutions for the homeless population can be optimized as each person provides a unique perspective. With this in mind, I have a far better question that I should be asking when driving home from HOMES Clinic: “What can we do together to end homelessness?”

Erica Smith is a fourth-year medical student at McGovern Medical School. She is currently serving as the HOMES Clinic Executive Director.