The Montclair Clinic provides a safety net of health care for residents and a rich learning environment for WesternU students.

College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific students at Western University of Health Sciences volunteer at the clinic three nights per week. Students are thankful for the opportunity to hone their clinical skills and work with patients.

The Montclair Clinic is the ultimate teaching experience, showing students where they are going as doctors, said Jennifer Erickson, DO ’11, one of the clinic’s student coordinators.

“It’s not volunteering so much as investing further in myself,” she said. “It takes us out of the classroom. Here we interact with patients and they’re real.”

The clinic is a part of the Montclair Community Collaborative and provides services to community members who have no private insurance or government medical assistance. They are charged on a sliding scale based on their income. The students from Western University have been volunteering at the clinic for more than 25 years, and assist in seeing more than 1,800 patients annually.

The Montclair Community Collaborative (MCC) began 12 years ago and is a partnership of the City of Montclair, the Ontario-Montclair School District, community members, faith-based and community-based agencies, businesses and county representatives, said Marcia Richter, Assistant Director of Human Services for Montclair.

“Our mission is to be a determined and dynamic partnership, guaranteeing a quality community for all, by working together as diverse, committed individuals and organizations,” she said.

At their annual celebration, held Sept. 29, 2008 at Lehigh Elementary School in Montclair, the MCC presented an award of appreciation to the medical students from Western University because of their continued dedication to the Montclair Medical Clinic, Richter said.

The students are supervised by resident physicians from Chino Valley Medical Center, coordinated by James Lally, DO, President and Chief Medical Officer of the medical center.

The Montclair Clinic is an integral part of the community and provides a “safety net” of health care for patients that would otherwise often end up at a local hospital emergency room, Richter said. The City of Montclair, along with the support of Dr. Lally, the medical students, and funding assistance from grants, is able to provide medical care to the community who don’t have a “medical home” and can’t afford to go to a private doctor’s office.

The clinic received the 2006 AstraZeneca Spirit of Humanity Award, presented by the American Osteopathic Foundation to an osteopathic physician, center or program that provides much needed health care services to the indigent, underserved, or those with barriers to quality health care.

“It’s such an honor to be able to work there,” said Courtney Martin, DO ’11, head student coordinator of the Montclair Clinic. “It’s in our best interest to work at the clinic as soon as we’re able to.”

WesternU has about 175 students eligible to work at Montclair Clinic, and 125 to 150 actively work there out of 217 total students in the class, Martin said.

“It’s well taken advantage of,” she said.

First-year students shadow second-year students during their second semester, and then take over leadership the following year.

The clinic is creating stronger links with community service clubs at WesternU, such as the Pomona Community Health Action Team (PCHAT). During club-sponsored health screenings throughout the region, students are giving referrals to people to get follow-up help at the Montclair Clinic, Martin said.

Other medical schools do not have this early interaction with patients, Erickson said. You learn to listen to what the patient is telling you, and you must learn to relax when dealing with patients.

“Patients know how you feel,” she said. “If you’re nervous, they’ll pick up on it.”

Ontario resident Jose Velazquez recently brought his wife, Victoria, to the clinic because of leg pain. Jose had also come to the clinic a few weeks earlier because he felt dizzy.

“When I was here two weeks ago, I got great service,” he said.

In this down economy, people don’t have money to pay regular doctors, Velazquez said. In fact, he thought he received better treatment at Montclair Clinic than with his “regular doctor,” pointing to the thorough examination given to his wife.

The students talk to their patients about their family’s medical history in addition to the physical exam. He estimated another doctor would spend one-third the amount of time that WesternU students spend with them.

“They don’t have the patience to do that,” he said.

The clinic serves as a carryover of their clinical skills training, but is a little different because it’s more real, said Jeff Gardner, DO ’11. His advice to future students is to not be afraid.

“You’re not going to hurt anybody,” he said. “Take as much as you can from it.”

The Montclair Clinic has great student leadership and a wonderful staff, Lally said. Students who volunteer at the clinic are reminded why they got into medicine – the people, he said. The Montclair community in turn receives affordable access to health care.

“Put a patient together with an enthusiastic, interested student and the interaction is wonderful,” Lally said. “The patient feels important because someone is interested in them. The student feels important in that they accomplished something, and great stuff comes from the encounter. In no other area do I experience the appreciation and gratitude that ones gets working in the clinic because the patients feel privileged and happy to be there, not entitled.”