March 2014 marked the 10th anniversary of the founding of Columbia Student Medical Outreach (CoSMO), a student-run primary care clinic for uninsured residents of Washington Heights. The clinic offers approximately 200 patients free medical care, lab work, prescriptions, and health education. It also offers something less tangible: a dedicated volunteer staff that cares about, and is sensitive to, the personal history and circumstances of the often undocumented patients.
CoSMO helps not only its patients, but also the students who work there. First-year medical students—under the supervision of faculty and more-senior students—gain clinical experience before their year of clinical rotations. CoSMO volunteers also benefit from the interdisciplinary approach, interacting with students from medicine, nursing, dentistry, social work, health education, and physical therapy. And, of course, they have the satisfaction of providing high-quality health care to an underserved population.
Alexandra Bercow, a first-year P&S student who spent last semester as a junior clinician at CoSMO, especially appreciated the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the patients. “We get to develop relationships with them,” she says, “to ask them about every aspect of their health and provide them with high-quality health care, including health education and preventive care. One patient we worked with was so proud that his A1C—an indicator of diabetes management—had lowered into the normal range. He said that his diabetes had been out of control before he came to CoSMO and that the time the students took to explain the mechanism of the disease and how to manage it had made all the difference.”
Read about CoSMO’s beginnings in an article from the Spring/Summer 2004 issue of P&S, the magazine of the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons (now called Columbia Medicine).