By Won-Jin Jeon (’20)
On the first week of my Street Medicine experience, I met a single mom with children ages 6, 8, and 12. They had been homeless for about three months before entering the shelter for women and children. At the end of the medical interview and physical examination, I offered to pray with the family. Very naturally, the family started to hold each others’ hands, and pretty soon I found myself inside the family’s prayer circle with the 6-year-old girl on my left and the mom on my right.
After we opened our eyes, I heard someone chirp up on my left, “I want to pray for Tita and Daddy!” She prayed for Tita, Daddy, and finally about her homelessness, more specifically asking God to help them to find ways to leave homelessness. “God, please help my mom receive her paycheck so that she can pay our bills,” she prayed. I was stunned and impressed by the young girl’s prayer. I thought to myself, “I wonder how many men, women, and even children are praying the same prayer tonight.”
Starting from meeting that family of four, I have had many patient encounters and heard stories of the struggles and realities of living on the streets of San Bernardino. There are patients of ages 5 to 80 with various illnesses and different levels of homelessness — some without adequate care after a fractured arm, others who have suffered concussions from altercations on the streets, occasionally those with uncontrolled hypertension requiring referral to a nearby emergency department, and many who smile brightly and say, “Sure, I haven’t seen the doctor in ages. I just want to see if my health is okay.”
Not only is the patient encounter refreshing and meaningful, but the teamwork of the Street Medicine volunteers and their spirit of servitude and prayer keep me going event after event. I have seen the heart of compassion exuding through the attending physicians and residents who come to the evening clinics despite their busy schedules, the attitude of service from medical, pharmacy, physician assistant, and nursing students practicing medicine in the place where medicine is most needed, and the prayer groups which form before and after each evening session. I have been repeatedly inspired by second-year medical students who come in the middle of their test week with excited faces and hearts ready to give to this underserved community. Those willing hearts, beating for others, to serve the underserved — that is Street Medicine.
Thinking from the viewpoint of the patients, what would the students and physicians look like? Would it reassure them that they will get the best care possible? Would it let them know that there are those who truly care for them and want to give? Would they be able to see God in the midst of the praying group, guiding their words, hands, and minds?
Though the mission of Street Medicine is to provide for the underserved, I have found that the experiences and patients have given me more. Not only do the evening clinic sessions help me to learn and practice serving the underserved, but Street Medicine also gives me a clear purpose in medicine. If the purpose of medicine is not to reach the unreached and serve the underserved, then what is medicine? Each 6-year-old girl who prays for ways to leave homelessness, each homeless man sharing his fears after a concussion, and each “sugar check” brings me back to this prayer: Lord, all I ask is that you form me into the physician that you would want me to become and that you would use me to serve your children in poverty and homelessness and help me to allow you to be in the midst of my interactions with them.