All of the Suitcase Clinic’s volunteers are required to undergo extensive training before participating in order to understand how the Suitcase Clinic operates and to appreciate the role that they will be playing within it. Volunteers learn how to casework with the homeless and low-income clients who utilize our services through trainings which emphasize a holistic approach towards providing health care to those who need it.
Training occurs in two forms:
1) Health and Medical Sciences 98/198: The Suitcase Clinic
During UC Berkeley’s academic year, those interested in working directly with the clients of the Suitcase Clinic must first take this course. Applications and information regarding each semester’s offering of HMS 98/198 will be available on the News page at the beginning of each semester.
2) Summer Trainings
Those interested in becoming involved with the Suitcase Clinic, yet are unable to take HMS 98/198 during either the fall or the spring semester, or are not currently an undergraduate student enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, may participate in the four day-long training session held every summer (check the News page in May/June for updates on the exact dates of the trainings). This training addresses all of the fundamental elements covered in Health and Medical Sciences 98/198, including caseworking, security training, clinic policies and procedures.
The fundamental agents of the Suitcase Clinic are the undergraduate caseworkers. Their primary role is to serve as the indispensable advocates of our clients, seventy-percent of which are homeless. Undergraduate caseworkers utilize the skill of active listening while conversing with clients. Through compassion and empathy, we proudly maintain a reputation of providing a friendly atmosphere at our clinics. Many clients come to our clinics to simply hang out and talk to our volunteers.
Caseworker responsibilities include:
- Accompanying their client throughout the duration of their visit to a drop-in center, including while waiting for a service and while services are being received
- Using the relevant resources to best assist their client with any difficulties or problems they may be experiencing
- Acting as a mediator, one who talks to the client as an individual, between the client and the service providers, ensuring that their client has received the services desired
- Establishing and maintaining positive client-worker relationships with the people seeking our services
- Making referrals to other agencies and services which are unavailable directly at the drop-in centers we operate
- Providing follow-up
- Serving as an ally to your client and fostering a non-judgmental social environment
- Taking an active interest in the welfare of the client and community
- Leveling the power hierarchy inherent in the provision of medicine, humanizing the care giving process
Caseworkers have different roles depending on which drop-in center they choose to volunteer at. They interview clients concerning their current and past social backgrounds and provide advocacy and referral information to help clients meet their needs. The caseworker leads their client through the various professional services offered at the Suitcase Clinic drop-in centers, serving as an advocate and a mediator throughout. Caseworkers also provide follow-up and take an active interest in advocating for the client’s well being. Caseworkers neither take medical histories nor perform any medical examinations or procedures. However, caseworkers work directly with health and social service professionals from a variety of fields, and have an opportunity to learn firsthand through this collaboration.
Follow-up is an important part of being a caseworker. It shows clients that we are dedicated to helping them when other people may not take an interest in their day to day needs or their thoughts and feelings. The Suitcase Clinic emphasizes this because we believe health is more than just the absence of disease, but that it also includes mental, emotional, social, and economic well-being. Follow-up allows for a continued focus on this type of holistic care and outreach. Examples of follow-up can include:
- Taking clients to optometry appointments on the UC Berkeley campus
- Meeting them the following week at the drop-in center
- Making phone calls or setting up appointments for clients
- Dropping off messages for them
- Helping clients fill prescriptions when the proper medications are not available at the drop-in center
- Grocery shopping for elderly or disabled clients
- Simply meeting somewhere to chat
The Suitcase Clinic is only one of many different organizations in the area that provide assistance to those in need. Caseworkers are encouraged to make referrals when they find that their clients need additional resources to those available at the Suitcase Clinic drop-in centers. These often include handing out information on finding housing, job training, dental care, and meals along with many others. Referral information is continuously updated and compiled for easier access by caseworkers on-site.
The Suitcase Clinic always has a need for professional volunteers from the community who are willing to contribute their time. We seek professionals from a variety of disciplines, from medical doctors to chiropractors to optometrists to massage therapists to acupuncturists to haircutters to foot washers. In addition, we are always open to implementing new services for our clients.
There are numerous benefits from volunteering as a service provider, including:
- The chance to hear some amazing stories from the unique lives of our clients
- Long-lasting relationships with clients that come on a regular basis
- The opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of those unable to afford these services
- The chance to make a lasting impact on our community
Professionals do not need to know all of the volunteer-oriented policies because an appropriately trained caseworker accompanies our clients throughout their stay at Suitcase Clinic drop-in centers; however, the more professionals can be made aware of the Suitcase Clinic’s policies, the easier it will be to enact them. Professionals should nevertheless be made aware of the policies in which they are integrally involved, such as reporting abuse.
Interested professional service providers should email the Administrative Coordinators and/or the Clinic Coordinators for whichever clinic(s) they wish to volunteer at. A tour of clinic will be set up, and prospective service providers can then decide if they wish to volunteer with the Suitcase Clinic.
We are very flexible with scheduling and will accommodate service providers as best as possible. Thank you for your interest!