Passion for Justice

USF Nursing & Public Health Students Behind Expanded Free Medical Services

by Arvin Temkar, Office of Marketing Communications

USF’s School of Nursing and Health Professions (SONHP) has been recognized for helping to expand medical care to San Francisco’s most needy at a free clinic that serves patients far beyond its Tenderloin neighborhood address.

The nonprofit Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center (A&PI) awarded the nursing school its Ally Award on May 29.

“We’ve been able to triple the amount of services and the number of patients we serve,” said Lance Toma, the center’s executive director. “And our ongoing relationship with USF is going to allow us to continue to fill a critical gap in San Francisco and really be a true safety net for those who are falling through the gaps of our healthcare system.”

Invaluable professional experience

A&PI Wellness was created in 1987 to address HIV/AIDS among Asians and Pacific Islanders in San Francisco. Today, the nonprofit serves diverse communities from across the city on a variety of health issues. The organization primarily serves clients with little or no health insurance.

A&PI allied with USF’s SONHP in 2012, about a year after opening a free medical clinic. At first, the clinic provided services once a week and served about 70 patients a year. Now, thanks to help from USF students and faculty it operates three days a week and serves about 300 patients a year. USF students do a variety of tasks, from creating procedures to make sure the clinic meets medical safety standards to performing physical examinations on patients.

About 20 USF graduate nursing students and clinical psychology students have interned or volunteered at A&PI Wellness in the past three years, gaining valuable professional experience. In addition, three SONHP faculty provide medical and psychological services at the clinic, while also supervising students. 

Hyun Jung Kim ’13, MSN ’14, interned at A&PI before landing a job there. As an intern, she worked on projects to improve efficiency in the clinic and to help enroll poor clients in a government health plan. “I learned how to advocate for clients and how to do a lot of follow up to make sure clients get the services they need on a continuing basis,” she said.

Overcoming stigma

Now, as a nurse, Kim often works with transgender clients, a population A&PI Wellness strives to support. “A lot of clients who are transgender face stigma if they go to a provider that has no experience with transgender care,” she said. 

“It’s really a win-win-win for USF students, A&PI Wellness and its patients, and the School of Nursing and Health Professions,” said Wanda Borges, associate dean for graduate programs and community partnerships at the SONHP, noting it was the first time an organization won the Ally Award. Previously, it was awarded only to individuals.

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