Spring 2011
New student opportunity opens in Las Vegas

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Sarah Heiner reviews a patient's chart as Tony Kuzhippala observes

Sarah Heiner, M.D., left, medical director of the Volunteers in Medicine in Southern Nevada clinic in Las Vegas, reviews a patient's chart as a UNLV nurse practitioner student and Tony Kuzhippala, third-year medical student at the School of Medicine, observe. Photo by Edgar Antonio Nunez

Following the outstanding experience with the Student Outreach Clinic in their first two years of medical school, students relocating to Las Vegas for their clinical rotations wanted a local outreach venue.

By Anne McMillin, APR

With the opening of the Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada health care center in January 2010, a potential for that clinical experience was created.

Established in 2008, the Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada is part of a national network of clinical facilities staffed entirely by volunteers. Operating under the mission of identifying, understanding and serving the health and wellness needs of working families, the all-volunteer clinic offers free primary care services to those who have lost jobs and health insurance or are underinsured.

Volunteers from the University of Nevada School of Medicine, including full-time faculty physicians, medical students and a family medicine resident are staffing the clinic on Tuesday nights.

Sarah Heiner, M.D., adjunct assistant professor of internal medicine and medical director for the clinic, said the clinic practices "old fashioned medicine" where students and residents must 'feel with their hands and see with their eyes' because they have to rely on donated technology that is not readily available in the office.

"They get to see the pathology of disease because we have a lot of patients with serious health problems like diabetes, thyroid problems and rheumatoid arthritis," Heiner said. "They are also learning clinical skills like EKGs and bedside lab tests that staff will handle for them once they are practicing."

Medical students and residents get the added benefit of learning the business end of prescribing medications, their availability and cost, thanks to the on-site medication dispensary.

Fourth-year student Caroline Graham, who is interested in family medicine, but will pursue her master's in public health before applying to residency, is grateful for the opportunity to continue the volunteer clinical exposure she first received at the Student Outreach Clinic in Reno during her first two years of medical school.

"I went to the orientation for the Volunteers in Medicine clinic and was impressed and surprised at what a great facility it was in an underserved area of town," said Graham, who participated in a month-long family medicine elective at the Volunteers in Medicine clinic last fall.

Graham sees interesting pathology, such as goiters and rampant diabetes, in many of her patients. Seeing these patients gives her an opportunity not only to treat their conditions, but educate and teach them about personal health care.

"We have a lot of time with patients who are very thankful for the quality of care they are getting," Graham said.

Miriam Bar-on, M.D., professor of pediatrics and associate dean for graduate medical education, first became aware of the clinic through her involvement with the Clark County Medical Society as the school's representative to the board of trustees. She was invited to sit on the clinic's organizing committee in 2008, which then evolved into a position on the board of directors.

"Our students were looking for outreach clinic experience in Las Vegas so this was a good opportunity to provide them with one," said Bar-on, who has been involved with outreach clinics throughout her career and was looking for a new opportunity for third- and fourth-year medical students. "I pushed it forward because it will provide education and outreach for students and serve the community, too."

Volunteer medical school faculty members also find benefits for themselves, as well as students.

"It is important to give back, and this is my opportunity to do that," said Thomas Hunt, M.D., an associate professor who volunteers after hours, following a full day in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. "There has to be an avenue to care for people short of going to the emergency room, and this is it."

Along with Hunt, Aron Rogers, D.O., also with the family medicine department and Aditi Singh, M.D., of internal medicine, volunteer their time to see patients and serve as attending physicians.

"Students are the first line in solving this critical need in our community and are part of the solution for these patients who have lost their insurance and have no other access to care," Hunt said, adding that with the help of students, he can increase by 50 percent the number of patients he sees.

He also sees huge benefits for patients as both attending physicians and students have time to consult because appointments are scheduled in one-hour segments.

Patients at the clinic located in Paradise Park are vetted for eligibility and range in age from 18 to 65, with the majority being 40 and up, according to Heiner.

The clinic, which is funded by private donations, is open five days a week, and patients are seen when volunteer physicians can be scheduled.

More than 500 other staff members, from administrators to nurse practitioners and physician assistants, volunteer their time at the clinic as do approximately 20 School of Medicine students.