Bus 22 from Stanford to Pacific Free Clinic (PFC) – 1.5 hours. Bus 22 and 25 from PFC to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center – 1 hour. Bus 70 from PFC to Foothill Family Community Clinic – 30 minutes. Bus 70 and 26 from PFC to Community Health Partnership – 30 minutes. Without a car, I managed the PFC and networked with community clinics and hospitals by bus. These bus rides provided me with a glimpse of one barrier disadvantaged patients endure in order to access the healthcare system. If my weekly navigation of San Jose’s health care system has been one long bus ride, so too has my medical training–a long seamless journey of exploring three vital components of medicine: community service to the underserved, translational/epidemiologic research, and internal medicine.
As stated in the opening of my personal statement for residency application (above) community service was one of my main motivations to go into internal medicine. Yet, despite 7 years of volunteering and managing 3 free clinics in 3 cities, I became focused on developing clinical skills and establishing an academic career instead. I pushed community service aside during my residency training and beyond until my trip to Gros-Morne, Haiti, where I, together with Atria Connect (https://www.atriaconnect.org), taught point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS).
Through Atria Connect, 14 other physicians from around the world and I trained 12 Haitian physicians at Hospital Alma Mater, where there were no echocardiograms, CT imaging, or MRI. There were 2 diagnostic imaging modalities available: a nonfunctional x-ray machine and an ancient ultrasound machine with just a transvaginal probe. For 3 months, we rotated weekly to provide hands-on training in a longitudinal POCUS curriculum that combined flipped classroom learning with online modules, onsite hands-on teaching (Picture 1), and remote hands-on training via a tele-ultrasound platform. At the end of the curriculum, the 2 youngest Haitian physicians then spearheaded a longitudinal training program for the remaining clinical staff within the hospital.
Similar to many global health efforts with POCUS, the 15 trainers, including myself, and the Haitian physicians experienced an evolution in clinical care. It ranged from expedited diagnoses of tuberculosis through the FASH protocol (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3554543/) to an unexpected evaluation of left heart failure possibly due to thiamine deficiency, to immediate trauma triages of patients from motor vehicle accidents in a town where traffic laws do not exist. With POCUS, Haitians have access to diagnostic medicine that would otherwise be denied in rural Haiti, where it would take a 4-hour bus/motorcycle ride on unpaved road to obtain. The evolution went beyond clinical management and access to basic health care, however.
Besides transforming medicine in resource-low settings, POCUS rekindled my initial drive to go into internal medicine: community service for the underserved. It empowers me to serve more effectively by training providers with an innovative technology of sustainable impact. With a tele-ultrasound platform and WhatsApp, POCUS draws me closer to the underserved in remote places, thus expanding community service on to a global scale, onsite and offsite.
More importantly, POCUS loops me back to community service at the local level, the original start of my journey to internal medicine. Similar to the Haitians in Gros-Morne, the disadvantaged in the United States face obstacles in which an additional trip to basic diagnostic radiology or cardiology, other than limited outpatient medicine encounters, proves to be difficult. An expedited evaluation with POCUS for simple clinical questions can maximize diagnostic capability and further advance clinical care as a way of improving access in this vulnerable population.
One instance in which I had a missed opportunity was during my residency in expediting care for my favorite clinic patient at an urban health clinic. She, unfortunately, suffered from multi-organ manifestations of sarcoidosis. One day, she presented with an acute onset of dyspnea and chest pain without hypoxia. Her examination was not significant for volume overload, pneumonia, or reactive airway disease. Her breath sound was mildly reduced on the right side. A chest X-ray was ordered. However, due to transportation cost and her inability to take off additional time from work, she did not obtain a chest X-ray until 3 days later. Her chest X-ray showed a spontaneous pneumothorax of 8 cm in size due to structural lung changes from her sarcoidosis. She was immediately sent to the emergency room for pigtail placement. Had I learned lung ultrasound, an immediate diagnosis would have been made and her care would be further advanced at minimal cost. While POCUS benefits all patients, POCUS magnifies the impact for the underserved by overcoming socioeconomic barriers.
My life-changing trip to Gros-Morne, Haiti (Picture 2), expanded my global awareness and revived my sense of social responsibility through community service locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. This is the essence of global citizenship (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5726429/?report=reader; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6076566/?report=reader). Instead of just providing much-needed medical care to the underserved, POCUS empowers providers to be a more effective global citizen by expediting diagnosis and care efficiently and cost-effectively. It has been a privilege to be trained as a physician and be taught by amazing mentors with life-saving POCUS skills. As a global citizen, I vow to train health care workers on POCUS on multiple geographic levels as part of my social mission to improve access and care for the disadvantaged, even if this requires a very long bus ride…
How has POCUS changed your practice? What do you do to be a global citizen? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.
Dr. Gigi Liu, MD, MSc, FACP, is a hospitalist and proceduralist at Johns Hopkins Hospital who leads the POCUS curriculum for Osler Internal Medicine Residency program and Johns Hopkins Bayview Internal Medicine Residency program.