Medical Student Finds His Calling With Free Clinic

Medical Student Finds His Calling With Free Clinic

Justin Berk wasn't always sure he wanted to be a physician, but his work at the Student-Run Free Clinic has reaffirmed his decision to enter medical school and earned him a national award.

Written by Suzanna Cisneros

As a future physician, Berk hopes to help improve the health care among underserved populations by overcoming access barriers.

As a future physician, Berk hopes to help improve the health care among underserved populations by overcoming access barriers.

Every Wednesday night, you may find one second-year medical student locking up the doors to the School of Medicine Student-Run Free Clinic. After long hours of seeing patients, ordering medical equipment, applying for grants and working with fellow students and School of Medicine faculty, Justin Berk believes he has found his calling.

Berk puts in approximately 80 hours a month at the clinic as its student director. Add to that the rigorous academic hours of a medical student and other community service work, and you’ll see why the American Medical Association (AMA) recently honored him with the 2013 Leadership Award.

Despite being an early leader in his medical education, Berk was not always sure he wanted to be a physician. Originally a biology major, he fell in love with health policy and learned about what can and cannot be accomplished for the masses in medicine. Berk said a person can be a passionate physician; but there are also roadblocks to providing adequate health care access to all people. He hopes to make primary care or internal medicine his career focus while also serving to overcome those barriers.

“In these two fields you can balance patient-centered care with the public health component and business side of things, all in the context of improving the health of underserved populations,” Berk said. “I wanted to become a physician and have the ability to help people when they are the most vulnerable, sick and have nowhere to turn. The common goal is to improve health. Small changes in business or policy can help a lot of people.”

Berk said he believes the award and training AMA provided gives him the opportunity to become a better advocate for the underserved.

Berk said he believes the award and training AMA provided gives him the opportunity to become a better advocate for the underserved.

Berk said his education at the School of Medicine has given him a wonderful opportunity with the free clinic.

“The investment in the Student-Run Free Clinic is energizing,” Berk said. “At the end of the night, you may be exhausted, but every hour reaffirms why I went into medicine. I make the time because the clinic is the most formative experience in medical school. At the clinic, we all build off of each other as a team. You see the patients’ faces and they are grateful. They are those people who are struggling and the working poor. At the clinic we treat them with the dignity, the respect and the care they deserve.”

Berk is one of 20 students across the country given this prestigious honor for work in community service, medical education and public health. The award provided medical students, residents/fellows and early career physicians from around the country with special training to develop their skills as future leaders in organized medicine and community affairs.

“I am excited and honored to have received this award,” Berk said. “It is a privilege to be in this group, and one of the greatest benefits has been the leadership training we went through at the conference. We had the opportunity to meet champions of health care and learn alongside other students how to become better advocates for the underserved.”

Berk is enrolled at the School of Medicine in Lubbock, working toward an M.D./MBA dual degree. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University and the Yale School of Public Health, respectively. Prior to running the TTUHSC Student-Run Free Clinic, he served as the director for AIDS Walk New Haven Inc., a nonprofit seeking to raise awareness and funds for local HIV organizations.


Story produced by the Office of Communications and Marketing, (806) 743-2143.

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TTUHSC Student-Run Free Clinic
TTUHSC Free Clinic

The TTUHSC Student-Run Free Clinic is an urgent care clinic that seeks to provide free basic health care to the working poor and homeless population of Lubbock while enhancing student education through community service.

Health care services are offered from 6-9:30 p.m. every Wednesday night at no cost to the patient.

Lubbock Impact provides the facility, reception staff, Medicaid counseling, a free meal at 5:30 p.m., pays for prescriptions, and offers a clothes closet.

School of Medicine
School of Medicine

Since 1969, the School of Medicine has graduated more than 3,000 physicians. The school aims to provide quality lab space, recruit creative, innovative research faculty, and develop graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for lifelong careers in medical research.

Today, more than 20 percent of the practicing physicians in West Texas have graduated from the School of Medicine or its residency programs.