Introduction: Free clinics provide an array of medical services at little or no cost to low-income, uninsured individuals in the United States and often rely heavily on volunteers to offer healthcare services for free or at reduced fees. The purpose of this study is to explore volunteering experiences at a community free clinic. Methods: Five focus groups were conducted at a free clinic with volunteers of the clinic (N=28) in September-November in 2016. Thematic analysis was performed to identify themes in issues relating to health, most urgent health issues, and ways to improve services for the underserved populations. Results: Volunteers felt more aware of the experiences of the medically underserved after spending time at the free clinic. Volunteer opportunities such as this could be valuable for those entering the medical profession because of the exposure to an important and overlooked population. Free clinic volunteers need to be able to help in many different areas because of the nature of this type of medical setting. Being properly trained will increase volunteers’ comfort with the clinic and may improve volunteer retention. Connecting with patients and seeing them get their healthcare needs met was listed as one of the most positive parts of the volunteer experience. Discussion: Free clinics allow volunteers to gain educational and professional experiences while assisting in the provision of medical care for underserved populations. It is necessary to develop effective training programs for volunteers in order to maximize the benefits they can bring both to the clinic and the volunteers. Conclusion: Volunteering at free clinics benefits both the community and the volunteers personally as they develop greater understanding of issues facing underserved populations. Since free clinics rely on volunteers, further research on volunteering at free clinics is necessary to improve quality and quantity of free clinic volunteers.
Hannah Gorski, Bethany Gull, Talon Harris, Tammy Garfield, Jeanie Ashby, Akiko Kamimura
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