At Providence’s Clínica Esperanza and the Rhode Island Free Clinic, med students volunteer to improve not only health care but the health care system.
As a volunteer with Clínica Esperanza in Providence, Ella Satish ’20 MD’25 was asked to commit to a few hours at least twice a semester. But no measure can truly capture how much time Satish actually spends helping the community health care clinic, which offers free, culturally accustomed, and language-specific care to uninsured Rhode Islanders.
Satish first got involved in 2019 as a Brown undergraduate in the Program for Liberal Medical Education. She started by helping to develop a patient education project about the importance of cervical cancer screening. Then Satish worked at the clinic, doing patient intake, interpreting—85 percent of the patients speak Spanish, and the other 15 percent speak English, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, or another language—collecting data and sharing it with staff members.
Now, in addition to interpreting Spanish for patients and physicians, helping to manage operations at the women’s clinic, and connecting staff to resources, Satish is the clinic’s first quality improvement and advocacy coordinator. She solicits patient input on ideas to improve women’s clinic care, then helps to implement them. In the role, Satish is partnering with a fellow Brown student to launch an education program about sexual and reproductive health, with the goal of empowering patients to make informed decisions about contraception, fertility and family planning, STI prevention, and more.
The women’s clinic at Clínica Esperanza is held every other Wednesday evening. Satish is there, every time, often staying late to clean up and wipe down exam tables.
“Spending time at the clinic is the highlight of my month,” Satish says—even when the atmosphere is busy and bordering on chaotic. “After being there, I feel re-energized. I really do love it.”
As part of a service requirement, The Warren Alpert Medical School asks all first- and second-year students to engage with the community through volunteering for at least four hours during each of their first three semesters. The volunteer programs at Clínica Esperanza, as well as at the Rhode Island Free Clinic, attract between 75 and 100 medical students each year—students like Satish, who far surpass the requirements, put in extra hours (and extra semesters—many volunteers are in their third or fourth year), and expand the parameters of their roles. They bring a collaborative spirit and the energy to catalyze change. They not only want to help care for patients, but to also improve the entire health care system.
The medical students who assist at Clínica Esperanza are referred to by the small staff there as “Clínica friends.”
“We also call them ‘gold,’” says Morgan Leonard, director of operations at the clinic. “They’re priceless. Their altruism is what makes this possible.”