By Abby Lau

Chris is originally from San Diego, but graduated in 2018 from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a B.S. in Microbiology. He has been volunteering with DWW-SBSM since his sophomore year. However, his interest in medicine and working with the underserved population began in high school, during an urban photography project in downtown San Diego. He says that seeing people on the streets “who were clearly mentally ill being taken advantage of” was an eye-opening experience for him. He felt like he had “failed as a human being” and decided from then on to help others as much as he could –in college and in the future.

That determination led Chris to DWW-SBSM, and he started as a scribe in 2016. He is currently in his second year as a Co-Parks Clinic Coordinator with Ammar Campwala. Chris says that he learned a lot from his first year as a coordinator, including the vast amount of time, effort, and organization that goes into setting up the bi-weekly 2 hour clinics. Before becoming a coordinator, he had “no idea the amount of effort it takes to make sure everything is stocked, to get supplies to clinics, and to be always mindful of the volunteers’ time.” He has learned to manage his time effectively as well as the responsibilities and expectations of others.

He also mentions that going to clinic every week has allowed him to better understand the different factors that affect how the organization presents itself to the patients. For example, sending out Companion Care volunteers to go out into the park and tell patients that where we are and what we do every clinic, despite the fact that a majority of the patients know this information already, makes them more likely to approach the clinic and seek help. The clinics are also less intimidating when less personnel are running the clinics and finding a balance between a smooth-running clinic (maximum staff) and providing a welcoming environment (minimum staff) for our patients is key. These are just a few of the tips Chris hopes to pass down to Ammar to help him in his next year as a Park’s Coordinator. 

Looking toward the future, Chris is currently applying for medical school. He has not decided on a specialty, but his ultimate goal as a practitioner is to work in advocacy. He is hopeful for a healthcare system that will be easy for patients to get into and at little to no cost to them. Working with DWW-SBSM, Chris is able to see the negative effects of the current healthcare system on patients. For example, while meeting with a patient and another volunteer to take a patient to a clinic, he was astonished by the “number of hoops the patient had to jump through just to see a doctor”. Even with two volunteers there to help the patient, there was still a pile of paperwork to fill out, requirements for documentation they did not have, and the discouraging worry of having to have to pay for their care and medications afterward. Although he encourages each patient to be as autonomous as possible, he understands that setbacks like depression, mental illness, and physical issues can severely hinder self-advocacy. 

Chris wants to use his future position as a medical professional to not only advocate for the underserved community, but for all people to have equal access to healthcare. Doctors Without Walls has been influential in his decision to pursue medicine and he plans to utilize everything he has learned from our volunteers, directors, and our patients as he moves forward with his career.