Located in Southwest Washington, D.C., only a few miles away from the gates of Georgetown, the HOYA Clinic serves the homeless and uninsured of the greater metropolitan area. The clinic is run by Georgetown University School of Medicine students and volunteer physicians, and its mission is grounded in the foundation of Catholic social teachings, a commitment to the poor. Over the past year, I have spent many hours in the Pediatrics Room of this clinic. As an undergraduate volunteer, I do not administer direct medical care, but I do have the opportunity to engage with those served. My interactions with the medical students and volunteer physicians have shown me the integration of Jesuit ideals into the medical school curriculum, and how these values are reflected in the care of each patient. I have been exposed to the health disparities apparent in the D.C. community, and have become acutely aware of the health-related manifestation of socioeconomic inequalities. While watching medical students engage compassionately with each patient, I have gained invaluable insight into the true nature of Georgetown’s teaching philosophy and its distinctive mission, deeply rooted in its Catholic and Jesuit heritage. Whether handing out health flyers, interacting with the children in the Pediatrics Room, or engaging with the volunteer medical students and physicians, I am continually inspired and motivated by the mission of the clinic and its unique integration of health care and commitment to the spirit of Catholic social justice.
My time at the HOYA Clinic has been an incredibly humbling experience that has challenged me to grow in my faith and understanding of my responsibility to others. Spending time surrounded by those cared for at the clinic reaffirmed for me the connection between my faith and my commitment toward becoming a physician. Moving outside of the comfort zone of Georgetown was a precursor for growth. I have grown in my understanding of service and what it means to put one’s faith into action.
Throughout my high school and now undergraduate years of Jesuit education, I have tried to live as a “woman for others,” as called to do by the Jesuit ideal instilled in my life of faith. Through this form of medical service, I have found a way in which I can put this call into action. I have seen the power of compassionate service in the medical care given to each individual who visits the clinic. Every medical student and physician serves each patient with joy, truly giving himself or herself fully to the care of the patient. Surrounded by these individuals, so willing and eager to help, my concerns of organic chemistry exams or lab reports quickly melted away. By my third visit to the clinic, I felt that I was more able to fully immerse myself in the present experience, setting all other worries aside and focusing solely on the children in the Pediatrics room. It was during these times that I feel I was truly being “a woman for others” as St. Ignatius so calls us to be.
As the year progressed, I began to find joy in the service that I was a part of at the clinic, recognizing the impact that five or six hours of my time had on the lives of others. The happiness of each child amidst their poverty and suffering stays with me, and I often think of the smiling faces of the many children who have passed through that room. I am continually inspired by each student’s dedication to service for the homeless and uninsured, and I aspire to serve with the same fervor as these medical students.
As Catholics, we are called to recognize Christ in the poorest among us. It is through gentle care and compassion that those at the HOYA Clinic are treated. We listen to patients with our ears and our hearts and are concerned with the emotional and spiritual well-being of each individual, as well as their physical health. I believe that patients are much more than symptoms on a page, and a compassionate as well as highly skilled doctor is necessary in trying situations. The work at the clinic is not simply prescribing a medication or injecting a vaccination, but rather the care provided to each patient is tailored to care for the whole person, both mind and body. Every week, mothers are supported in their parenting skills, and children are educated to make healthy food choices. By respecting the dignity of each individual in both words and actions, medical students and physicians are able to ease the worries of patients, allowing them to talk freely about their medical concerns and even the troubles of their daily life. I believe my experiences have allowed me to more fully understand what it means to be Christ for another. The medical students and physicians at the clinic are truly the hands and face of Christ for those served.
My experiences at the HOYA Clinic have challenged me to grow in my understanding of service, why I want to be a physician, and what it means to put one’s faith into action. Seeing the dedication and commitment of the medical staff has made me more resolute in my desire to give back to others as a physician. I may have given several hours each week to the people at the clinic, but the patients haven given so much more to me. Each conversation or interaction with a patient allows me to experience my Catholic faith in action. In the words of St. Ignatius, “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.”