Student joins alumna’s pioneering work through clinical internship
It’s one thing to have a hands-on internship in an area of medicine you’re passionate about.
It’s another to do that work alongside a St. Olaf College alumna who’s a world-renowned pioneer in the field.
And that’s exactly the opportunity St. Olaf student Emma Fulton ’16 had this summer as part of her internship at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) General Hospital’s HIV/AIDS Division, more commonly known as the Positive Health Program.
While there she worked with St. Olaf alumna Diane Havlir ’80, whose research has helped define the most effective treatments for patients with HIV/AIDS in the U.S.
Currently the chief of the HIV/AIDS Division at USCF General Hospital, Havlir co-founded the “Getting to Zero” coalition that aims to make San Francisco the first city with zero new HIV infections, zero stigma, and zero HIV-related deaths.
The Positive Health Program is a key component to reaching that goal. The program is the largest HIV clinic in San Francisco, and primarily serves patients who are HIV positive and without private health insurance. Many of the clinic’s patients also cope with issues such as homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction.
As part of her internship, Fulton worked with Havlir and other staff members to ensure that every patient in the program has the amount of HIV in their blood tested every six months in an effort to examine the efficacy of and adherence to treatment, while also identifying and reaching out to patients who might be drifting out of care.
Fulton was also involved in other initiatives, such as helping host a women’s clinic each week. She and others provided breakfast to patients waiting to see their primary care provider, social worker, and case manager. The goal, Fulton says, is to foster a sense of community between the women who come to the Positive Health Program clinic every week.
“The hope is that by providing this consistent support, patients will be more consistent with their treatment — improving their long-term health while also decreasing HIV transmission in the community,” she says.
Fulton says talking to the women and listening to their stories each week left her humbled by the things they have had to overcome, and astonished by the progress they are making.
“Even in a city as progressive as San Francisco, there is much headway to be made in combatting discrimination based on sexuality, race, and socioeconomic status,” she notes.
Fulton landed her internship after reaching out to Havlir, who delivered a Founders Day Guest Seminar at St. Olaf in the fall of 2013 titled The Beginning of the End of AIDS.
In the past year, 146 St. Olaf students have received Piper Center funding for unpaid or underpaid internships. Another 47 students have received internship funding through college cohort programs such as the Rockswold Health Scholars Program and the Svoboda Legal Scholars Program. An additional 165 students earned academic credit for their internships.
The Positive Health Program internship has given Fulton, a biology major at St. Olaf, unique insight into the various challenges in providing care to an underserved population. From funding issues to clinic overcrowding to simply getting patients to show up to appointments, the scope of obstacles in this work far exceeds the clinical management of HIV.
Despite the challenges, Fulton believes her experience at the clinic has provided her with invaluable preparation for medical school and a career as a health care provider.
“This internship has instilled confidence in me and reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in medicine,” Fulton says. “Furthermore, it has given me a powerful perspective on the challenges I will someday face as a provider, but more importantly on the overwhelming adversity faced by so many patients.”