Health Frontiers in Tijuana (HFiT) Clinic
The Health Frontiers in Tijuana (HFiT) clinic lies in the middle of a dusty street within walking distance of the red light district in Tijuana. At 10:00am every Saturday, the doors to the clinic open and people from all types and walks of life begin seeing doctors and medical students from UCSD and the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California (UABC). Many of the patients have little to no access to healthcare; a significant portion are drug addicts or involved in the sex industry; a majority have been waiting over an hour for the doors to open.
“It’s a really exciting time to be involved with the HFiT clinic and the UCSD Division of Global Public Health as a whole,” graduate student and HFiT student coordinator Daniel Yee says. “Especially at UCSD with the UCSD Global Health Institute, there’s been a large focus on improving collaborative efforts between people across different departments and institutions. I’m sure we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish even half of what we’ve done so far at the HFiT clinic without the cooperation of the UABC and UCSD faculty and students, many of whom come from different backgrounds and specialties.”
Indeed, Yee comes from a background in biology himself, having graduated from UCSD in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in General Biology and currently pursuing a Master’s in Biology also at UCSD. Still, even with a course load of mostly biology classes, he maintains a close connection with global health issues. Yee was the president of the UCSD chapter of the Fellowship of International Service and Health (FISH) for 2 years, an entirely student-run 501(c)(3) that organizes medical missions to Tijuana with the help of physicians from the U.S. Nowadays, Yee’s experience in FISH is coming in handy as he helps build infrastructure for the HFiT clinic.
The HFiT clinic is a binational student-run free clinic that partners UABC and UCSD undergraduate, pharmacy, and medical students together to provide healthcare for the underserved in Tijuana. The idea for the clinic originated from former UCSD medical student, Amy Eppstein, and UCSD faculty members, Dr. Steffanie Strathdee and Dr. Jose Luis Burgos. HFiT was formally established in April 2011 after 3 years of development and searching for an ideal location, and the clinic operates weekly on Saturdays. It is now part of MED 290, an elective course for UCSD medical students where they learn about the “joys and challenges of healthcare for the underserved” and gain practical experience in outpatient services under the supervision of UCSD and UABC doctors.
“What Amy, Dr. Burgos, Dr. Strathdee, Dr. Ojeda (who is a UCSD professor who specializes in the health of underserved and vulnerable populations), and Luis Alberto (president of Prevencasa, the NGO that helps operate the clinic) have managed to do with the clinic in the span of three years is incredible. I’m really just helping to fill in the cracks, because all of the heavy lifting and planning has already been done,” Yee smiles. “There’s a lot of potential for what this clinic can do—not only in the services it can provide, but also in the research and educational opportunities it affords. Downtown San Diego and Tijuana are separated by less than 20 miles and share a lot of the same characteristics between their respective populations, so anything we can do in benefit the Tijuana population will also indirectly benefit San Diego.”
Currently, the clinic offers a variety of services for its patients. In addition to free consultations, patients are encouraged to participate in surveys that are offered by researchers from UCSD and UABC, and the clinic also has the beginnings of a pharmacy so that if they are available, patients can bring home free medications without having to visit a pharmacy themselves (one of Yee’s projects this year has been to implement a system to manage the pharmacy and recruit pharmacy students from the Skaggs School of Pharmacy to operate it). The clinic also operates a needle exchange program and supports several other public health initiatives that are backed by the Mexican government.
So what’s next for the HFiT clinic? “There are plans now to establish a women’s and a pediatric’s clinic and I’m trying to create a student organization that will enable undergraduate students to get more involved,” Yee says. “I remember as an undergrad myself, I always wanted to do things that would help make a big difference, and this definitely fits that description. Even if they aren’t the ones practicing medicine, undergraduate students are crucial in helping the clinic run smoothly and can make a big impact—they can serve as patient navigators and health advocates, they can fundraise—there is always some way for people to help out, to get involved.”
For more information about the HFiT clinic, please contact:
Dr. Jose Luis Burgos (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Dr. Victoria Ojeda (email@example.com)
For more information on getting involved at the HFiT clinic, please contact:
Student Board of Coordinators (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To donate to the HFiT clinic, please visit: UCSD Online Giving