The Total Care of Our Patients
When I first started serving at the UF Health Total Care Clinic (TCC), I knew that it was a clinic that serves uninsured and underinsured patients, and that it was a unique type of free clinic. However, what that truly meant to this community and these patients was still unclear to me. After a few weeks serving here, I came to realize that “The Total Care Clinic,” was much more than just a name, it was a commitment to its patients’ overall wellbeing. This commitment ensured that we always aim to treat the whole patient and address not just physical health, but emotional health, social needs, access to care and health inequity. Through this commitment was born various programs to ensure these needs were being met, and in a way that all patients could access them. At the TCC a patient can see a dietician, engage in wellness classes, meet with a social worker, participate in resiliency training, meet with prospective employers and even access nutritious food.
One of my main roles at the TCC has been connecting patients with the Food Pharmacy program, which is a prescriptive food pantry on site at the TCC. This program serves patients that struggle with food insecurity and comorbid diet related conditions, like diabetes and hypertension. Through their primary care provider and dietician, they are given a prescription that meets their specific dietary needs. Patients then shop regularly in the Food Pharmacy to receive substantial amounts of fresh produce, lean proteins, and high fiber foods; foods that are more costly and difficult to access.
Explaining and enrolling patients in this program has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my service. Each time I connected a patient with this program, they opened up to me about their personal challenges with food access, nutritional education and how that affected their health. The more I explained about the program the more I could sense their feelings of defeat and shame about their poor diet or worsening condition shift to excitement and hope. “A chance for me to take my health back” and “This is a new beginning for me” were just some of the things patients have expressed to me after enrolling in the program. I got to see firsthand just how important this program was to the community I was serving. One patient that shared her story with me explained that the reason her cholesterol and blood pressure were so bad was because she relied primarily on food pantries for her groceries. She always received plenty of high carb and fatty foods but never had access to a regular supply of fresh vegetables and fruits. She was now having to undergo heart surgery because the complications became so severe and was terrified. She exclaimed that this program was life changing for her and provided her with the ability to make the changes she has always wanted to.
As an aspiring physician, this experience has deeply shaped my understanding of what it means to be healthy. It has provided me with insight into the intersection of medical intervention and social determinants of health. Lastly, it has defined the way I plan to practice as a future medical physician by focusing on total care of the patient.