OHSU Health Screenings

by Sara Post, spost@reed.edu

On February 25th, medical students from OHSU visited the Voz Worker Center to conduct health screenings for those in need of health consultation free of charge. The group was made up of aspiring dentists, nurses, physicians and medical researchers from a class at OHSU called ICHEE; the Interdisciplinary Community health and Education Exchange. Their professor is Valerie Palmer, a tall South African immigrant who is currently a senior research associate of the Global Health Center at OHSU as well as director of the Neurotoxicogenomics labs.

Palmer explained that her goal for this class is to bring together students of different medical disciplines to solve global health issues. Years ago, while tackling an infectious bacteria in Ethiopia, a member of her medical team questioned why it was necessary for chemists, as well as microbiologist and epidemiologists to work together on the project, rather than taking the more standard approach of working with solely professional medics. “It is a hindrance to effective diagnosis and treatment to only see sickness through one angle,” she said to me.

My own reason for attending the health screening event was to learn more about translation work of two kinds: Spanish to English, as well as the conversion in perception of health for Latin Americans to a typically Western biomedical view of health. Patients described their problems in their terms (headaches, lower abdomen pain, one man describing symptoms “caused by a lack of faith”). I translated these words into English as best able, from which the medical students then transformed symptoms to diagnosis: one man was said to have hernias, another—lymphoma. For these problems, various clinics around Portland were recommended, most of them suggested because of the possibility of free or state subsidized health care. The Wallace Clinic was the most frequently suggested clinic, as it is well know for providing health care to those for whom English is not a first language. Workers at Voz spoke positively about the event, at which there were nearly equal numbers of medical students and workers, allowing for a short wait in order to receive consultation. However, a few workers expressed that they had already tried going to clinics in Portland, including the Wallace Clinic, and discovered that the wait time to receive emergency surgery was longer than expected, or the cost of care more expensive than anticipated.

“This work as interesting to me,” said a student of nursing, “because we get to meet people in the field and get to learn about their lives. In a hospital setting, you only get five minutes to talk to someone and figure out the problem, but usually it’s a lot more complicated than that.” Palmer likewise stressed the importance for both students and workers to interact freely and without time limit, in order to understand health issues from both the side of the patient and medical student. “It’s an opportunity in learning how to listen to patient, and to encourage the patient in speaking openly.”

The next and last Voz health screening by OHSU will be on Saturday March 10th 2012, also occurring at the worker center.