Real-World Caring at the SOS Clinic
Whitman College students volunteer at the local health services clinic to serve the community and gain valuable experience. They are supported by Whitman’s student-led SOS Club.
By Mónica Hernández Williams
Photography by River Woodruff ’25 and NoemÍ Reed
From a young age, Katie Jose ’23 knew she wanted to practice medicine. And during her time at Whitman College, she has only grown more confident in that goal through her work with Walla Walla’s SOS Health Services Clinic. The San Diego native (pictured at left) is double majoring in Hispanic Studies and Global Health with aspirations of becoming a pediatric oncologist in her hometown.
Only 3 miles from campus, the SOS Clinic provides health care services to individuals with inadequate health insurance in the Walla Walla Valley, regardless of citizenship status. The clinic gives Whitman students like Jose a firsthand look into the health care field while benefiting from a pool of volunteer students and interns eager to get career experience.
“Whitman students have been and continue to be bright young people with a deep desire to serve others and make the world a better place,” says Paul L. McLain M.D., Medical Director of the clinic. “I am always astounded at how much energy they have and how they are willing to give to our mission of providing primary health care to local people who do not have adequate health insurance. We have come to depend on these students and are never disappointed.”
“Their mission … that is the kind of work that I want to do in the future,” says Jose. I want to have my own clinic for underinsured and uninsured patients in San Diego because the immigrant community is so big there.”
In her first year at Whitman, Jose joined the student-led SOS Club to become a volunteer and now serves as the club’s president. She is also president of the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS)—which creates community among underrepresented students who are interested in medical professions and grows their knowledge of the specific needs of minority communities in health care settings.
‘A ONE-OF-A-KIND EXPERIENCE’
SOS Club members help the clinic by recruiting volunteers, scheduling carpools, organizing fundraisers and hosting awareness campaigns about health disparities. SOS Club members shadow physicians, translate for staff, check in patients and provide clinic upkeep. Jose says volunteering was a great experience, but she took it one step further by interning through the Whitman Internship Grant, which pays students for what would otherwise be an unpaid internship.
“As an intern, I got to do things that the clinic coordinator is responsible for, like take inventory, purchase vaccines, start a vaccine clinic, administer COVID tests and keep patient records,” Jose says. “At one point, the clinic coordinator was gone for two weeks so I was trained to run the clinic while she was gone. It is an opportunity that I am incredibly grateful for, and I know that I probably wouldn’t have had that anywhere else. It is a one-of-a-kind experience that I got because I came to Whitman.”
Jose’s classmate Erik Muro ’24, who currently sits on the Board of Directors for the clinic, agrees. He initially heard about the SOS Clinic through Jose and has since volunteered and interned there too—with a focus on medical translation. He knows firsthand how challenging language barriers can be in a health care setting.
“I always think back to when I would go with my mom to the hospital when I was a kid and I would interpret for her. It was very difficult,” says Muro, a Hispanic Studies major who grew up in Walla Walla. “A child should never have to go through that. Plus, it can be embarrassing or uncomfortable for parents to let their kids know what is going on.”
Now, Muro uses his language skills to build trust between the patient and the physician.
“I am able to be that bridge for someone,” he says. “I come in and can be a friendly face … and they know that I can speak to them in their language.” Seeing the comfort and relief that provides patients is “really cool” and rewarding, Muro says.
In addition to making a positive impact for patients, Dr. McLain says students are also leaving an impact on clinic staff.
“Whitman students keep all of us who work in the clinic energized and help us better appreciate the value of the volunteering that we ourselves are doing,” he says. “They help us understand that we also have additional value in helping nurture their career interests and decisions.”
HELPING NOW & INFLUENCING LIFE AFTER WHITMAN
Victoria Frost ’24, a Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology major from Anacortes, Washington, says interning at the clinic has given her clarity on the direction of her future.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to study medicine or computer science. Interning at the SOS Clinic solidified that I want to go into health care,” Frost says.