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Free People's Clinic Initiates Saturday Gynecology Session

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Free People's Clinic Initiates Saturday Gynecology Session

The Free People's Clinic believes that ongoing education of both staff and patients is essential to our approach to health care. The Clinic's new Saturday Gynecology Clinic is a model of this philosophy, so rarely found in the present health care system. The Gynecology Clinic opens at 11 am, and focuses on all areas of human sexuality. Although it deals primarily with gynecology, it is not restricted to women. Except for the physician, all staff at the Saturday Clinic are female. Joe Eliot, the staff gynecologist believes: "The best teachers for women are women."

The Gynecology Clinic is extremely relaxed -- an atmosphere both patients and collective members enjoy. The doctors and advocates enjoy a trusting rapport, and this casual feeling is communicated to patients. Comparing the Saturday Clinic to other health facilities she has used, one patient said that at other facilities she felt "shuffled around" and literally "scared" of the whole gynecological exam. The Gyn Clinic is not the typical hectic scramble for health care.

After signing in with the receptionist, and maybe choosing an apple or a cup of coffee, the patient is introduced to an advocate who reviews her medical history, and answers her questions about the Free Clinic and about her body. Together, the patient and the advocate proceed to the lab, where routine tests are performed, like blood pressure, and blood count. Everything is explained to the patient who is free to participate in the running of the tests. Then the patient is seen by the doctor still in the company of the advocate. In this way, the Clinic treats approximately eight patients per Saturday. The patients may have been referred to the Gyn Clinic from one of the regular Monday thru Wednesday Free Clinic sessions, or from Planned Parenthood's Express Teen Clinic, or from just hearing about it.

Commenting on the Gyn Clinic, Kathy Biersack says, "I've felt a lot of positive response from both patients and collective members." Peggy, another collective member, relates her excitement while munching on a home-made cheese sandwich provided by Joe Eliot. "This clinic represents what we spend a lot of time talking about at Sunday Night (regular clinic) Meetings, namely, collectivity. When we come to work, we plan on spending our whole Saturday here. This attitude makes work relaxed and pleasant."

Collectivity of the staff is vital to the Gyn Clinic. The Clinic opens at 11 am, but the staff arrives about an hour early to talk to one another, share information, and set up. After the day's patients have been seen, the staff participates in a post-meeting where the day's events are discussed and where people learn by sharing.

Later Peggy exclaimed, "Listen! Right now Joe is in with a patient, lab tests are being run, every patient has been counseled, but it's so calm. It's peaceful, yet functioning."

Joe Eliot, the staff gynecologist is also an associate professor in the Population Planning Program at the School of Public Health, and the medical director of Planned Parenthood in Ann Arbor. A long-time Free Clinic staff member, Joe offered his additional services to the Clinic on Saturday and brought along a group of his students who are patient advocate/counselors.

Harriette Barber, one of Joe's students, and a new member of the Clinic staff, is impressed with the Clinic's attitude of "learn as much as you can" for both staff and patients. At other health care facilities, Harriette has not felt satisfied with the amount of patient-staff interaction. She expressed great admiration for the sensitive manner in which Joe teaches the patients and advocates about their bodies. The entire collective agreed. In response, Joe demurred, describing himself as "just a grey-haired, bearded man trying to teach women about their bodies so they can help themselves."

The emphasis on personal sharing and educational exchange is fundamental to the Clinic's philosophy. The role of the doctor is demystified, and participatory health care practices are emphasized. Women cannot help but become politicized by their experience at the Gyn Clinic, because afterward, they can no longer be satisfied with condescending, mechanized, sexist treatment. Women are brought in touch with their bodies and that self-awareness is often a new, and thrilling experience.

"These services are first rate," Joe says. "Women can empathize with other women. You can teach a woman a procedure, and then she can render the service better than a male physician."

Once again, the Gynecology session of the Free People's Clinic happens every Saturday at 11 am, upstairs at 225 E. Liberty, near Fifth Ave.

-- Free People's Clinic