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Tijuana Clinic Trains New Generation Of Border Doctors

— There’s a new clinic in Tijuana that offers free care to anyone who walks in the door. Medical students from both sides of the border staff it. A medical student at UCSD came up with the idea.

The clinic is housed in a nondescript, two-story building just blocks away from the U.S. Mexico border.

Inside the building, fourth year UCSD medical student Amy Eppstein greeted her counterparts from UABC, the med school in Tijuana.

"Me llamo Amy," said Eppstein, introducing herself in Spanish, "y estabo trabajando en este projecto…"

Audio

Aired 8/10/11

UCSD medical students don't have far to go to get some real world experience in global health. A new free clinic is operating in Tijuana that's staffed by students from both sides of the border.

This clinic is Eppstein’s baby.

"I’ve always been very interested in global health and underserved medicine and that’s a large reason I decided to go into medicine," Eppstein explained. "And so my first year of medical school, I came down to Tijuana with a group from a different medical school, and that gave me the idea to start something at UCSD that would allow UCSD medical students to also get more involved with health in the border region."

Every Saturday, students from UCSD and UABC work at the clinic. Doctors from both schools supervise them.

It’s all part of a class called Health Frontiers in Tijuana.

Dr. Remedios Lozada is coordinator of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Disease Programs for the state of Baja California. She said the clinic offers a great learning experience for students on both sides of the border.

"But above all, the most valuable thing about the program is that we’re providing services to a group of people that need it the most," Dr. Lozada pointed out.

The clinic is located on the periphery of Tijuana’s red light district, called La Zona Norte. In this neighborhood, there are a lot of drug addicts, sex workers, homeless people, and even people who live in the irrigation canal.

But people who live in other parts of town, like Claudia Patricia Gonzales, also visit the clinic.

"I was passing by, and I saw that the clinic offered free care," Gonzales said. "The main health clinic in town is closed. So, I came here once, and this is my second visit."

In a small exam room, Amy Eppstein and some Mexican medical students asked Gonzalez to describe her symptoms. Gonzales told them she’s been suffering from terrible headaches for about a month and a half. She’s says she hasn’t been able to get any relief. After a thorough exam, Eppstein will consult with one of the doctors on site on how best to treat Gonzales.

UCSD Dr. Jose Luis Burgos is the clinic’s medical supervisor.

"Hopefully, this program will sensitize students, or future physicians, to work with this population, to work with their counterparts, in Mexico, and to address and to communicate better between clinicians, and to better address health issues of this border populations," Dr. Burgos said.

But what about students who would rather open up a plastic surgery practice in Beverly Hills? Eppstein said they could benefit from spending time in the clinic, too.

"I think no matter what you do in the future, medical school is all about learning new experiences, learning how to work with colleagues, learning how to work with different populations of patients," Eppstein said. "You never know who will come in the door. And I think working down here will teach you flexibility, and also teach you how to think on your feet, which are very important qualities that a future physician would have, no matter what specialty they go into."

Ultimately, after years of planning, Eppstein is proud that the Tijuana clinic is up and running.

"And I’m so excited to see the students from UABC and from UCSD working together," she said. "To see that 90 to 100 patients have been seen in about one or two months, and I’m very excited to see where it will go in the future, as well.”

The clinic hopes to get students from other disciplines to spend some time here. If so, it could someday add mental health services and a nutrition program to the mix.

Video by Katie Euphrat

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