There's a joke about adolescence: It's a non-fatal disease that only time can cure. But for the students attending Yerba Buena High School in South San Jose, surviving adolescence is no joking matter. According to Dr. Amy Boudreault, a third-year Kaiser Permanente OB/GYN resident who rotates at the Yerba Buena High School Health Center, the transition to adulthood is a tough one.
The students she sees are "at-risk youth," she explains, living below the poverty line. They come to see the clinic's residents every Friday morning, seeking information on their changing bodies, looking for relief from menstrual cramps, testing for sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy, and getting help dealing with violently abusive relationships. And they're only 15 years old.
Dr. Boudreault visits the high school clinic as part of the Kaiser Permanente Community Safety Net Partnerships, designed to strengthen the front lines of medical delivery in underserved areas. The clinic offers health care in a range of disciplines to a population of kids who otherwise wouldn't receive any. To Dr. Boudreault, reaching out to her patients with resources, options, and medical advice is as important as reaching across the desk with a prescription.
Dr. Boudreault recalls one girl who came into the clinic to discuss birth control options. As the student was leaving, Dr. Boudreault asked if she had any last questions. Turns out the student's 32-year-old mother was facing surgery for an ovarian tumor. With three young siblings to take care of, plus her mom, the 15—year-old wanted to know what to expect.
Dr. Boudreault explains, "We sat down, pulled out the books. I showed her pictures of anatomy, pictures of ovaries, and what a cyst looked like. I explained how the surgery would be performed and what the recovery process would be like. I told her what kind of care her mom would need, and how she could help her family and still stay in school."
"There's something very rewarding about this work," Dr. Boudreault says. "At Yerba Buena, we are seeing girls who don't have anywhere else to get medical treatment." Beyond dispensing medicine to treat infections, there's the opportunity to actually "reach out to these kids with advice, prevention messages, with medicine, with resources, with the encouragement they need to stay in school, get an education and make something of themselves. We can actually change their lives."
"Just by showing up, we're powerful role models," Dr. Boudreault states. Most of the Kaiser Permanente residents in rotation at the clinic are young women in their 20s and 30s. "We're not that different in age or appearance from these kids. Because we're non-threatening, these girls have someone to talk to. They see us, and they say, 'Wow, you're a doctor! Maybe I can do that, too.'"
For Dr. Boudreault, that's an opportunity to encourage them to pursue their studies. "'If you want to do this,' we tell them, 'You can do it. But first you have to stay in school, get good grades and go to college.'"
The residents at Yerba Buena know that for these kids, there's something even more powerful than a prescription. It's called opportunity.
So residents like Dr. Boudreault help at-risk youth get health care while completing their own medical training.