Clinical: What We’re Learning

woman sitting and reading in libraryThis summer, for the first time, seven law students, two pharmacy students,  and one medical student took on the daunting task of learning patient advocacy from entirely remote settings. Through the summer Clinical, interdisciplinary students work with clients who have approached the Center with a variety of health care challenges related to serious illness. 

In non-pandemic times, students contacted patients remotely, but learning as a group offered a lot of rich interaction and relationships. Attending virtual discussions, this year’s students don’t get the benefit of the camaraderie that normally develops through in-person case reviews and informal discussions.

Here, 2nd year law student Caitlin Wellinbrink considers some of the lessons she learned this summer. 

What does it feel like when your entire life changes overnight? I knew that question would arise in my work as a Patient Advocate in this year’s summer clinical, an eight-week, hands-on experience I’m completing between my first and second years of law school. I knew I would accompany clients who had received life-altering news, whether in the form of a diagnosis, prognosis, or even a bill. That was one of the reasons I wanted to work at CPP. But I never thought a global pandemic would help me empathize with what that type of change feels like. 

On one hand, a personal medical event and a pandemic are not at all the same. On the other hand, both events are reminders that nothing can prepare you to so abruptly reevaluate your priorities, your relationships with others, and the practical realities of how you move through and show up in the world. 

On one hand, figuring out what care you need, where to get it, and how to pay for it is in a different universe than shifting to remote work. On the other hand, both situations require learning new habits and vocabulary, putting extra effort into every action and interaction, and recalibrating to a “normal” that shifts daily.

On one hand, in the pre-COVID world, most CPP advocacy already took place virtually; when I began volunteering with CPP’s medical-legal partnership program in January, the day-to-day work wasn’t too different from what I do now. The shape of our advocacy has always depended on the client, and we continue to find creative ways to be present with our clients: through video conferences, screen-sharing, emails.

On the other hand, COVID impacts the scope of options available to us. Our clients are experiencing their health and healthcare in new ways — some good (such as telemedicine options that didn’t previously exist) and some bad (such as travel limitations that rule out facilities that would otherwise be promising). I’m making decisions with new awareness of risk and uncertainty. We’re all missing a level of ease we maybe didn’t even realize we had before.

Even when your entire life changes overnight, you’re still not alone as you struggle and readjust. I’m grateful for this fact as I live through a pandemic, and I’m grateful I can offer CPP clients our companionship as they live through changes.