Taking blood pressure readings at health fairs was not exactly Caleb Wilson's idea of connecting with patients. A second-year medical student at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, he wanted to do more. "What can medical students do to make a real difference?" he asked.
His response to that question is making a big difference to the Southern California community that he and other UCLA medical students are currently serving.
Wilson, 24, along with first-year medical students Jeff Fujimoto and Brandon Scott, both 25, started a UCLA student outreach and education group last fall, based on a partnership between UCLA student chapters of the American Medical Association and the Student National Medical Association. All three are leaders of these chapters. The goal of the group, Connecting Californians to Care, is to "connect" the state's uninsured - an estimated 7 million people - to health insurance. With chapters at USC and UC San Diego, the organization is now 100 members strong.
So instead of spending a recent Saturday salsa dancing or playing football - his usual ways of decompressing from the rigors of medical school - or tutoring fellow students, Wilson was at a community outreach center off Hollywood Boulevard helping the uninsured enroll in health care.
Although heavy rain kept turnout low, Wilson and the other volunteers were upbeat. "It's a contagious excitement," Wilson said.
"Medicine has a very human aspect to it," said Fujimoto in an email. "Reaching out to people and connecting help us become more well-rounded people and physicians as well."
During the community outreach event, students determined if an individual qualifies for Medi-Cal or Covered California; explained the ins and outs of tax credits, coverage tiers and insurers; then sat down with the person while they enrolled online.
Natalie Mendoza, 25, hasn't had health insurance for seven years. "I'm lucky I haven't had any problems," she said. After studying the enrollment website with student volunteers, she said she would probably go for a bronze or silver plan. "I feel good knowing the options."
Wilson, Fujimoto and Scott developed the training curriculum for the volunteers with their group advisor, Dylan H. Roby, director of the Health Economics and Evaluation Research Program at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and an assistant professor in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
The three students, along with 20 others in the group, are also training to become state-certified enrollment counselors in conjunction with the Saban Community Clinic.
Certification will allow the students to key in a person's information on a computer for them during enrollment.
Until then, the students said they are happy to educate and guide people through the process at outreach events.
As the rain lightened, a woman hesitantly stepped into the outreach center, where she was greeted by eager students and led to a laptop. Within minutes, the students had her navigating the enrollment site, and within an hour she was typing in her information. "Look!" said Fatima Reyes, a USC student volunteer. "She's better at it than we are!"
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