Covenant House

At Penn Med you will find no shortage of volunteer opportunities. We previously published a piece on a student-run clinic, Heart Health Bridge to Care. Today, another MS1 shares her experience volunteering for Covenant House, a youth homeless shelter.  

One of the things that was most important to me in choosing a medical school was the opportunity to participate in community service and work with the underserved. At Penn Preview last year, I boarded a bus with some of my now-classmates to visit Covenant House, a homeless shelter for youth in Germantown, Pennsylvania. We toured the shelter and heard about the services offered by the many wonderful people who work there.

What made the day most memorable for me was one young woman’s story. This young woman shared that she had lost her father at a young age and that her mother was addicted to PCP and unable to take care of her and her siblings. She therefore had to support her younger siblings herself. Despite being homeless and having faced numerous obstacles and difficulties in life, this young woman was dedicated to making a better life for herself. She worked, went back to school and is now living independently and doing very well. After my experience hearing from this inspiring woman at Covenant House that day, I knew I wanted to become involved with the organization and the amazing young people there.

This fall, I became a regular volunteer at Covenant House. Each Wednesday, a group of volunteers goes to Covenant House and holds an activity night for the residents. Our activity nights have included cupcake decorating, painting and music, writing and theater workshops, game nights, exercise classes, and more.

I am so inspired by the resilience, hope, and dedication of the young people living at Covenant House People who have been through incredibly difficult circumstances are cracking jokes to make me laugh . Suddenly, my own “problems” are put into perspective. In addition, many of the young people at Covenant House are talented artists and poets, creating amazing and moving art.

I’m now one of the student coordinators for Covenant House. This means that in addition to planning activity nights on Wednesdays, I am able to shadow in the clinic at Covenant House on Fridays. Dr. Ginsburg, who leads the clinic, at Covenant House is an inspirational physician who provides the kind of care that I hope to one day provide to those in need. It’s wonderful being able to watch him interact with his patients and observe how he is able to make them feel safe and cared for despite their past experiences. Dr. Ginsburg trains his residents and medical students to not only present a patient’s medical complaint to him, but also to state what they love about a patient. He has emphasized to us that you may not always like your patients, but you can find something to love about them. When Dr. Ginsburg comes into the patients’ rooms, he warmly addresses them, and the faces of previously reserved patients light up.

While shadowing, I am also privileged to hear patients’ histories and stories and learn about their lives. Their stories often involve harrowing accounts of abuse, violence and neglect, but their strength in the face of these injustices is truly staggering. I’ve unfortunately also seen the limitations faced by those who want to help the underserved. Limited supplies, medication and resources mean that creativity is sometimes needed to make sure patients receive the care they require. For example, one patient who required an antibiotic received a different regimen than she may have received elsewhere because it was all that was on hand. Another patient received an antibiotic shot even though there was a risk of an allergic reaction, and needed to be monitored for anaphylaxis. Again, this was due to the fact that only certain antibiotics were on hand, and the infection was a more pressing problem than the small risk of an allergic reaction. One does not often see these types of decisions being made at a large academic center like Penn with much more plentiful resources. Nevertheless, it is wonderful to see that despite facing limitations, it is possible for motivated people to provide great care to those in need.

My visits to Covenant House have been what I consider to be some of the most important and formative experiences of my time so far at Perelman. The incredible residents of Covenant House have solidified my desire to provide care for marginalized populations in my future career. I don’t believe that anything could be more fulfilling or rewarding, and I am so happy to have been able to be involved with Covenant House.

Abby Robinson is an MS1 originally from North Canton, Ohio. She graduated from Cornell University in 2013 and spent a year providing HIV testing and counseling in the ER of the Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx before beginning school at Perelman in 2014. In her free time she enjoys running, baking, bad reality television and spending time with friends.

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