Back in the Day: NCNM’s Early Community Clinics

Clinic Staff At Outside In (Left To Right) Student Diana Henson; Dr. Kimberly Tippens; Dr. Michelle Salob; student Cora Rivard; student Lindsay Millin Fontenot; then NCNM President Bill Keppler in 2005.
From the earliest days of the NCNM clinics, invaluable real-world experience for naturopathic and Chinese medicine students has gone hand-in-hand with helping the vulnerable and poor get better through free or low-cost care.

Dr. Laurent Chaix, a 1995 graduate of NCNM’s naturopathic medicine doctoral program, was a resident in one of the first community clinics. Working with Chris Meletis, ND (’92), and others, he helped set up a series of NCNM clinics at Portland Community College (PCC) sites, downtown Portland’s Outside In and several other sites, including the community clinic at Mt. Olivet Church in Northeast Portland.

That latter clinic, recalls Dr. Chaix, was formed in 1995 after NCNM’s African-American students approached the church pastor. Soon, NCNM students and faculty were visiting the church each week, initially setting up partitions and massage tables near the pastor’s office. Other nearby rooms served as exam rooms.

“We had a pretty decent medicinary,” Chaix said. “Appointments were made at the main clinic and we had a binder where slots were filled. We were given a filing cabinet and all the charts were kept locked onsite. Every week we had a bin that would ferry the meds and money bag, and other items. It was a pretty good system.”

Using Mt. Olivet as a model, NCNM set up its first PCC clinic at the community college’s Portland Metropolitan Workforce Training Center in Northeast Portland, according to Chaix.

“The population served at that PCC (site) was in need of medical attention as well as workforce preparations,” he said. “At that point we became known in the PCC community and we were being invited to their multiple locations around Portland. Every PCC wanted to have a clinic onsite at least once a week.”

Chaix also heard that Outside In, a downtown Portland clinic that serves a largely homeless and drug afflicted population, might lose its state funding. He approached the director with a plan to help keep the doors open: NCNM, in the midst of an enrollment uptick and in need of more student teaching sites, would place students there, supplementing the clinic’s limited staff. The arrangement was accepted and continues today, currently with three weekly Chinese medicine shifts. “That gave students an opportunity like no other,” said Chaix, “seeing pathologies that would never come across our doors at the main clinic.”

NCNM students have similarly benefited with experiences at the other clinics, whether it was PCC students or the African-American community. NCNM community clinics since have broadened their reach and now also include the Asian and transgender communities, and with the addition of the Beaverton Clinic (see Beaverton Clinic, p. 18), NCNM is seeing increasing numbers of Spanish-speaking patients.

“There were students in my graduating class that never once saw a diabetic patient,” Chaix said. “Now, lots of students see diabetics and patients afflicted with common chronic conditions like hypertension, gastrointestinal issues and acute illness like colds.”

Chaix sees positives and negatives with the changing medical landscape. The Affordable Care Act has cut community clinic numbers because now more people are covered by insurance, he said, but there are more opportunities to help the uninsured in the Hispanic community. Whatever happens, Chaix remains a strong advocate of the teaching and healing opportunities the clinics provide.

“Most of the students that choose NCNM do so based on the reputation we have that our clinical training is awesome, in great part due to the community clinics,” he said.

Learn more about NCNM’s Community Clinics.