Ellen L. Beck, M.D.
Since 1997, the Student-Run Free Clinics set up by Ellen Beck, MD, have helped more than 7,500 underserved and uninsured patients in San Diego. The clinics, which operate at four sites, are staffed by students training to go into health professions, as well as law and social work. They provide primary care services, 17 areas of specialty care (including cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, ophthalmology, acupuncture, and psychiatry), plus health education, referrals to legal and social services, medications, and restorative dental work – all for free.
Beck, 59, a clinical professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, UCSD School of Medicine, launched the clinics to provide humanistic learning environments for both patients and students. "We want to reach the people who have fallen through the cracks, who have no access to care," she explains. "And we want to teach students how to be respectful, empathetic, and self aware in their practices."
Her program is very popular. More than 1,000 UCSD medical students have taken free clinic electives that teach this philosophy and the skills to provide high-quality care to people who might otherwise go without it. And more than 135 doctors across the country have taken her three-week national faculty development course, which includes training in how to establish student-run clinics. About 15 student-run clinics have been set up based on her model. Funding comes from a variety of state, federal, and private foundations (including the WebMD Health Foundation).
"Our medical students arrive with passion, compassion, and a desire to make a difference for patients," she says. "But the medical system often beats it out of them. Our program keeps those dreams alive and gives them the tools to provide that kind of humanitarian care in their own practices."