Pre-Med, Learning by Helping

Sarah Lawrence students Nikhil Wadhwani and Hannah Steinberg have their hearts set on becoming physicians. Volunteering each Saturday at the St. Anthony’s Free Medical Clinic in the Bronx has helped strengthen their resolve.

On Saturdays during the school year, Dr. Robert Quintano, a Bronxville plastic surgeon, picks them up at 8:30 a.m. at the Sarah Lawrence campus and drives them to East 155th Street, where the clinic operates in a converted classroom. Sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the clinic provides free care, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Steinberg, of Chattanooga, TN, began volunteering at St. Anthony’s last year. “It’s a great experience,” says the Sarah Lawrence junior. “I’m learning valuable skills, and I really enjoy helping people. There are few things that make me happier.”

Like all the volunteers, Quintano, who helped found the clinic in 1998, doesn’t get paid for his Saturday mornings in the Bronx. The clinic offers immunizations, medical exams, asthma care, well-child visits, and anemia checks. According to the students, the patients seen at the medical clinic are among the thousands of New Yorkers who lack health insurance coverage.

The Sarah Lawrence students are given responsibility for initial contact with patients, many who begin lining up at 8 a.m. They take their blood pressure and pulse, find their height and weight, and conduct a vision test. After the intakes are completed, the students observe as the physicians conduct physical exams and take patient histories.

“It’s fascinating to see what concerns them, and what doesn’t concern them,” Steinberg says. “It’s a really good learning environment.”

Wadhwani, of Berkeley, CA, says he enjoys interacting with the patients. “It’s nice to sit down and talk with them,” he says. “The doctors really need us. It helps them to do their jobs better.”

Wadhwani, a junior, is taking organic chemistry this fall, and will study cell biology and biochemistry in the spring. He plans to take the Medical College Admission Test in May, with the possibility of starting medical school in 2012.

“There were times when I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go to medical school,” he says. “The free clinic has been a good environment to see what I’m comfortable doing. Working with patients has been great. Nothing compares to that satisfaction.”