Columbia University Medical Center

Student-Run Clinic for Homeless Marks 10th Anniversary

The Columbia-Harlem Homeless Medical Partnership (CHHMP), a clinic run by P&S medical students, began offering care to the homeless and unstably housed individuals 10 years ago this May. Over the past 10 years, CHHMP has helped more than 1,400 patients and has expanded to provide primary care and services to anyone in need.

“At CHHMP, you get to be an advocate for patients who may not have had positive experiences with the health care system in the past,” says P&S student Brooke Pfister’18. “You get to reverse that cycle for them and be a positive, supportive, empathetic provider to really phenomenal people who appreciate your help.”

CHHMP operates weekly out of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem. Under the supervision of CHHMP’s attending physicians and faculty advisers, James Spears, MD, and Urmi Desai, MD, P&S students obtain a history, conduct a physical exam, and prepare a tailored care plan for each patient. It is simultaneously a learning opportunity—students gain firsthand experience practicing primary care and clinic administration—and a way to improve the quality of life of underserved populations.

CHHMP group photo from 2016. (Photo courtesy of CHHMP)

Over the years, the clinic has forged partnerships with other CUMC programs to provide dental procedures, diabetes education, occupational therapy services, and psychiatric consultation. Medical interpreters are on site each week to help providers and Spanish-speaking patients, who comprise about one-fourth of CHHMP’s patient population, communicate effectively.

“I think one of the strongest things about CHHMP is that the patients will come back, not because we’ve provided all this extensive, free care but because they feel they’ve been listened to,” says Dr. Spears.

For medical students, participating in CHHMP is both professionally and personally enriching. “CHHMP is a great opportunity to get a lot of learning experiences early in your medical career,” says CHHMP 2016 co-director J.J. Diah’19. “We have to learn the ins and outs of the clinic: We’re essentially running every aspect of it.” The time and effort students devote to CHHMP lead them to form strong bonds with one another, she adds.

“CHHMP is really a family­,” says Samuel Cohen-Tanugi’18. “We work hard together, but our relationship sort of transcends the hard work: We’ll always be there for each other.”

To learn more about CHHMP and how to donate to the clinic, visit http://chhmp.org.

CHHMP received the Community Service Award at the 2016 P&S Awards for Excellence. From left: Lee Goldman, MD, J.J. Diah, who accepted the award on the clinic’s behalf, and Ron Drusin, MD. (Photo by Amelia Panico)