Amber Smith, M2, Class of 2023
Throughout this election cycle, our televisions, websites and social media are dominated by one issue: the future of healthcare. Millions of Americans do not have health insurance, which can prevent them from accessing the basic resources necessary for maintaining their health. To bridge this gap, the JayDoc Clinic at KUMC helps provide essential care, such as medications, diabetes treatment, eye exams, general health and community outreach for no cost to patients.
Amber Smith, a second-year medical student at KUMC, is an Executive Director for the JayDoc clinic. She plays an important role in the daily logistics, serves as a liaison between the students and patients, and helps plan the vision for the clinic. Smith’s inspiration for attending KUMC and joining JayDoc came from seeing healthcare inequity amongst her family and wanting to make sure others wouldn’t have the same experience.
“I wanted to attend a [medical] school that was committed to serving the underserved, because that’s the kind of doctor I want to be. Although I come from an upper middle class background, all of my extended family in Kansas City live below the poverty line, so I have seen what it is like to not know if you can afford to go to the doctor, or to die at a young age from things that are avoidable,” Smith said.
Prior to entering medical school, Smith attended college at the University of Pittsburgh and majored in Natural Sciences. During her time as a college student, she was able to learn about unique medical perspectives in Guatemala that are not commonly found in the United States. This helped her better understand how to work with underserved communities.
“[In Guatemala], I worked for an organization called the Maya Traditions Foundation, which helps bring indigenous Mayan women up to the middle class through their skills such as Backstrap weaving, medicinal teas, herbs, and tinctures. Every morning, I worked in a medicinal herb garden for 4 hours. I also lived with a Mayan healer for a month, so I was able to see her actual work. She even healed me once when I was sick,” Smith said. “In America, we think that medicine can only be done one way. In the Mayan culture, [medicine] is rooted in the Earth because we come from the Earth. Being able to see the cross section between nature, religion, and medicine showed me that there isn’t one right way to do healthcare.”
Smith’s experience in Guatemala has influenced the way she serves as Executive Director as well as how she interacts with the diverse populations that utilize the JayDoc clinic.
“There have been many patients who are immigrants from India and Central America who treat their diabetes naturally with things such as herbal teas. Sometimes, students at the clinic say, ‘I don’t get it, why don’t they just take Metformin?’. When I hear that, I try to think that the person who is drinking this tea may have never had access to Metformin, or they truly feel that the tea is going to help them, so it is not our place to judge,” Smith said.
While she makes time for activities such as Yoga, reading, and hiking, Smith said that JayDoc clinic is one of her biggest commitments alongside medical school. However, she has enjoyed her experience serving as an Executive Director.
“I love it. It’s a lot of work, almost like a part time job. Balancing JayDoc with school can be tricky but I have never regretted going to clinic. I love the 6 hours that I am in the clinic and can have an impact on people’s lives, such as setting them up with resources to become healthy,” Smith said.” Something that would surprise people about my role are the different hats I wear during clinic. [I’m] not always behind a desk. Say a language interpreter is gone, I know enough Spanish to ask if the patient has an appointment and lead them in the right direction. Sometimes, I will scan patients for COVID and measure their height and weight. It’s the little things where I can fill in.
In addition to serving her peers and patients at the JayDoc clinic, Smith enjoys working with students at local schools. During college, Smith tutored 5th and 6th grade students at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh to inspire a passion for education and the sciences. Currently she is working with Student National Medical Association (SNMA) at KUMC to provide educational resources to black female students in Kansas City.
“I’m the Service Chair for SNMA, so I work with any opportunities to do community service. I am working with a girl’s school to teach about healthy living and wellness, as well as discuss our path to medicine. The [Executive] Board for SNMA is all women, so we wanted to go to a predominantly black girls’ school to share our path to medicine,” Smith said.
Between serving as a leader in the JayDoc clinic and working with students throughout her college and medical school career, Smith has discovered a connection to teaching that she hopes to pursue as a future doctor.
“I wanted to learn and act like an advocate for people who look like me and may not be as fortunate as I am. That is why I got really involved [in JayDoc]. In the future, I hope to get involved in medical education,” Smith said.
If you would like to learn more about the JayDoc Free Clinic, you can follow their Facebook page for news about events and fundraisers: https://www.facebook.com/jaydocfreeclinic