Robert Bonacci’s passion for medical care for Latinosdeveloped well before he entered medical school.
As an undergraduate student, Bonacci studied Spanish and studied abroad in Argentina. Bonacci alsostudied tubercolosis epidemiology and tobacco use in Mexico on a Fulbrightscholarship. Considering this background, this second year Perelman School ofMedicine student jumped at the opportunity to volunteer at Puentes de Salud, a nonprofit healthclinic in South Philadelphia supporting all groups, but focusing on its growingLatino community.
“Puentes really fit with my interests,” said Bonacci. “Ispent a year doing public health research in Mexico before medical school andmy mom is from there. Puentes embodies a lot of what I want to do later on, soit was a natural fit for me.”
Bonacci found out about Puentes while interviewing formedical school and on a second visit in Spring 2010 to city Penn-supported healthclinics. Steve Larson, MD, associateprofessor in Emergency Medicine, gave a talk to the students during this visit.
“Students such as Rob come to Puentes de Salud with a ‘firein their belly,’ eager to gain exposure to the issues of community health andwellness that led them to choose medicine as a career in the first place,” saidLarson. “Puentes de Salud offers them the opportunity, at the earliest point intheir medical education, to ‘roll up their sleeves’ and become involved inclinical care on the ‘front lines’ of community health.”
Puentes de Salud student volunteers are introduced to a widerange of community health issues, ranging from simple access to care to healthdisparities. They are encouraged to engage and explore these issues in opendialogue.
A volunteer coordinator at Puentes since January, Bonaccidelivers patient care (while accompanied by attendings, resident physicians,and/or nurse practitioners) as a clinical volunteer, and serves as anadministrative coordinator, running patient flow at the front desk.
The clinic is open 6-9 pm on Monday and Wednesday nights.
In Puentes’ intake process, a non-health professional studentrecords contact info, demographic data, and the chief complaint from eachpatient, and then the patient advances to the vitals station. This is where a grantthey recently received from Penn Medicine CAREs for a vitalsigns and blood pressure monitor comes into play.
“On some nights when we have newer volunteers or volunteerswho haven’t been to the clinic in awhile, it bottlenecks at the vitals station,”Bonacci explains. “By adding this monitor, we’ll improve the flow of theclinic, get a better estimate of the number of patients we can take, take morepatients, improve our triaging of patients, and improve our screening of chronichealth conditions.”
Those with very high or low vital signs, such as very highor low body temperature, or in acute distress, can sometimes go ahead of someof the other patients, thus improving the triage process.
More efficiency allows Puentes staff more time for nutritionand lifestyle counseling to help prevent hypertension, diabetes, and other systemicailments.
Bonacci learned about Penn CAREs from other School ofMedicine students, including Douglas Worrall, a previous recipient who receiveda grant for United Community Clinic.
As the majority of Puentes patients are Latinos whose firstlanguage is Spanish, patient care is available in English or Spanish. Clinic volunteersare expected to be comfortable speaking Spanish conversationally. Those who donot know Spanish are able to volunteer for Puentes outside of the clinicalsetting.
“We welcome all people regardless of whether they areLatino, English or Spanish-speaking, we welcome them all the same,” saidBonacci.