Having served patients at free clinics from California to New York, Jeff Chen says helping to lead UCF’s student-run KNIGHTS Clinic has been “the best part of my medical school career.” As he prepares to graduate May 17, Chen says providing care to Orlando’s underserved “reminded all of us why we went into medicine. These patients were our teachers. We saw it all.”
Now in its sixth year, KNIGHTS is part of Orlando’s Grace Medical Home and is made possible through donations from the Diebel Legacy Fund at Central Florida Foundation. More than 200 student volunteers – from UCF’s medical school and social work programs and the University of Florida’s pharmacy program – provide ongoing interprofessional care to about 50 patients. The clinic is completely student-run – from the appointment desk to labs, pharmacy to patient education – with supervision from UCF College of Medicine faculty and community physicians. In the 2018-2019 academic year, students had 144 patient visits and donated 1,672 in-clinic hours.
Chen served as clinic director during his second year of medical school. “He showed beautiful leadership skills and also a tremendous heart for service,” said Dr. Magdalena Pasarica, the associate professor of medicine who directs the program. “What makes Jeff special is his ability to focus on optimal patient care for the underserved. He always had our patients’ interest in mind.”
Chen started volunteering at clinics for the underserved when he was an undergraduate at University of California San Diego. He continued that work as he earned a master’s degree at Mount Sinai in New York. He learned about UCF’s clinic during his interview day at the College of Medicine four years ago. “I knew right away I wanted to be part of KNIGHTS Clinic,” he said. “It’s truly a special place. You develop relationships with these patients and you see the impact of your care. You learn that sometimes life puts people in circumstances they have no control over — we could all be in that same position. Some of our patients haven’t been to a doctor in 10 or 20 years. But by working together as a team, we can take care of them.”
He notes the importance of the clinic’s interprofessional approach. Pharmacy students give patients guidance on their prescription drugs. Social work students help patients deal with issues such as homelessness and unemployment. They also taught medical students how to ask patients about possible abuse. “They helped us be sensitive to that issue,” Chen said, “and develop a plan for patients who were in danger.”
In an essay, one pharmacy student reflected on “how much the clinic meant to the patient we treated. One of my favorite memories was helping an adorable young girl understand the importance of her insulin, and teaching her mom how to use the lifesaving glucagon injection. Even though this interaction lasted less than 30 minutes, it is one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
After graduation, Chen will do his residency in anesthesia at the University of Southern California. He’ll be working at Los Angeles County Hospital. While his specialty and his residency workload may hinder his ability to volunteer at clinics for the underserved, Chen is looking into the possibility of global health surgical missions as a way to give back. And he says his experience at UCF taught him to be a compassionate physician as he helps patients prepare for surgeries. “A lot of people are more worried about being put to sleep than they are about the actual surgery,” he says. “So I am the doctor that’s going to smile and say, ‘I’m going to be there for you during the whole surgery. My job is to keep you safe.’”
Editor’s Note: Dr. Pasarica wanted to recognize all the other members of the KNIGHTS student board: Heather Lesch, Michelle McGee, Yi Luo, Lauren Otaguro, Colby Skinner, Sina Koochakzadeh, Elizabeth Murphy, Kaitlyn Hite, Morgan Schlig, Courtney Wagner, Steve Kong, Elliot Griffith, Ambika Anand, Sven Eriksson, Anne Liu, Christina Dai, Michael Mankbadi, Katharyn Brennan, Dan Freeman, Shazia Majid, Punnavit Peter Harimtepathip, Jeremy Tran and Jennifer Rizzo. “They were a pleasure to work with and will make wonderful caring physicians,” she said. “I am proud to have contributed to their education and I know that they will continue treating underserved patients in future with the same respect and consideration.”
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