A Night at the UCSF Homeless Clinic

First-Year Medical Student Describes Fulfilling and Educational Volunteer Experience

At the UCSF Homeless Clinic, students work with preceptors to provide medical care for some of the men and women who need it most in San Francisco. Photo by Elisabeth Fall

By Jeffrey Chen on February 24, 2014

The first time I go to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco, I leave my white coat at home.

The Society provides shelter for over 400 transient men and women each night. It’s also the location of the UCSF Homeless Clinic, which is where I’m headed tonight, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Many of the men and women who come to the clinic have had negative experiences with healthcare providers in the past. A white coat may be the last thing they want to see.

Jeffrey Chen, a first-year medical student at UCSF

People come to this shelter in the South of Market neighborhood to find reprieve from the vicious cycles of homelessness, violence, and substance abuse that they encounter on the streets. Here, they are able to get help, whether it’s to find permanent housing, employment, education, or simply a warm bed to stay for the night and food to sustain them through the day.

And since 1992, on every Tuesday and Thursday night, these men and women have been able to get free medical care right at the shelter.

Since its founding 22 years ago, the UCSF Homeless Clinic has drawn medical students and local community physicians to volunteer their time caring for the patients most in need in San Francisco. Since then, the clinic has expanded to include nursing, pharmacy, premedical, and even law students.

The clinic draws student volunteers from UCSF Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy, as well as premedical students from the University of San Francisco and law students from the UC Hastings College of the Law

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Each group has their role: pharmacy students, for example, will help patients go over their medication lists and help them figure out how to stick to their regimens, while premedical students will help coordinate referrals to San Francisco General Hospital, the Tom Waddell Clinic, or other local health centers that focus on care for indigent populations.

Because some patients have needs that are hard for the biweekly general clinic to address, students now also hold a dermatology clinic one Tuesday a month and a women’s clinic 1-2 Sundays a month.

As we walk in the doors of the shelter, our stethoscopes set off the metal detectors, loudly declaring our arrival. Before we cross the room to set up shop, a few residents approach us, asking if they can be seen. One man needs help with his diarrhea, which has been keeping him up at night; another with his swollen, painful toe.

Matt Bald, a second-year student and veteran volunteer assures them that we’ll be back to check on them as soon as we’re set up. I will be shadowing Matt throughout this night.

Continue reading on the UCSF School of Medicine website.