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Our Heroes

Name: Christine Pionk

Title: Nurse practitioner, UMH Employee Health Service; Adjunct lecturer in School of Nursing

Volunteer with: The Hope Clinic

Christine Pionk

What exactly do you do (when you volunteer)?
When I volunteer at Hope Clinic as a Nurse Practitioner, I evaluate and treat the varied medical concerns patients present with.  There is a great deal of chronic illness represented in this patient population including asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, as well as mental health issues.  And there may be the so-called “minor illnesses” including coughs and colds, rashes, and muscle strains/sprains. 

Many foreign-born patients are seen at the clinic, so the differential diagnosis may need to include place of origin illnesses.  Educating patients in regards to illness prevention and adherence to prescribed regimens is a major focus of the clinic visit.  Another focus is a review of community resources – not only for assistance in obtaining medications, but also in obtaining food and clothing.  The staff at Hope Clinic have a great deal to offer and are extremely concerned that the individual patient receives as much assistance as possible.

Why did you choose the Hope Clinic? 
As a new nurse practitioner, I worked in an inner city emergency department.  Many of the patients passing through the ED had no health insurance and no resources for primary care.  The majority of medical concerns were non-acute illnesses and injuries, which could have been better attended to in a different setting.  I reviewed resources for these individuals, and attempted to locate volunteer sites where care could be provided without need for a fee. 

In Ann Arbor, I knew of Hope Clinic anecdotally from nurses who volunteered at the site.  I was part of the program planning when consideration of a midweek evening clinic was discussed, which was around 1999.  I have enjoyed volunteering at the site since that first Wednesday night clinic. 

It is gratifying to see just how much Hope Clinic attends to the needs of those with very limited resources.  I also see many patients in my current role in the Employee Health Clinic who may not have health insurance due to temporary work status, etc.  I was struck with the difficulties they reported when needing care for simple illnesses, and the almost insurmountable obstacles they faced if an acute medical problem required treatment.   Some of these patients have been referred to Hope Clinic.

What has been your most rewarding experience?    
This patient population is unique!  Each time I volunteer, an individual patient consistently expresses thanks for the medical care received, and expresses gratitude that I am volunteering my services.  I appreciate the smiles, the hand shakes and the hugs that represent their thanks. 

There are many instances when I feel I may have made a difference.  For the individual who had finally found a job and was to start work the next day, but had a flare of acute asthmatic symptoms; treatment allowed the symptoms to be better managed and did not disrupt the return to work.  For the 70 year old individual who traveled from the Philippines to California to visit a sister, and then took a side trip to Michigan to visit a highschool classmate.  His hypertension and diabetes medications were lost during transit, and he was able to obtain these medications.  For those who have jobs; taking even one day off from work may place the job in jeopardy, so having access to care makes a difference.  

What motivated you to begin volunteering? 
I wanted to make a difference and I was very interested in the patient population seen at Hope Clinic.  I think it is inherent in the role of the nurse to want to provide assistance and support where needed.  

Volunteering can be completed in a variety of areas.  I was also interested in animal welfare and volunteered at a farm for horses that had been mistreated.

What are some of the ways you see the effects of UMHS in the community?    
Employees from the health system and the medical school are consistently and actively involved in numerous volunteer projects.   I know of many who volunteer not only in the local community, but in other countries as well.  UMHS is viewed as having great educational and research resources, and these resources are used not only in the clinical setting, but also in the community.

What advice or encouragement would you give to someone who is considering volunteering?
There are many ways and places to volunteer.  Read through the newspapers – many have listings for volunteer services and requirements or recommendations for those wishing to consider a specific site.  Take some time to determine the areas that you are interested in; often an initial visit to a site will strengthen the resolve to volunteer!