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When a bus station becomes a doctor's waiting room

A medical student kneels to talk with a man in a wheelchair.
Mike Desmond
A medical student talks with a man who has come to the downtown bus station for care.

A small segment of the local population met with their medical care team at a downtown Buffalo bus station Tuesday evening.

University at Buffalo medical students brought items vital to those with no permanent address: socks, hats, COVID masks, T-shirts, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Later in the evening, the students and their baggage moved to a shelter at Holy Cross Church on the city's Lower West Side.

It's become a ritual for apprentice doctors and their patients, usually two nights a week with those without permanent homes, knowing there is permanent care at the bus station.

Second-year medical student Ricki, special initiatives manager for UB Heals, said there is a real value to these meetings.

Two men look over suitcases full of clothes and other items.
Mike Desmond
Those who get care can also walk away with clothing, face masks and other essentials.

"This experience helps medical students kind of get their feet wet in terms of learning how to talk with people," Ricki said. "Because it's not just textbooks and tests, it's seeing how you can relate to other people in making them feel comfortable in giving you a history. And I will say a lot of those students who come out with us are repeaters. They love coming out and talking to patients."

Alyssa Dzik said medical students are trained in questioning patients, but this is for real.

"How can we best help you? Those sort of things," Dzik said. Open-ended questions like, we have socks and hats and stuff here, is there something you need? Or, we have a doctor here with us today, are there any medical symptoms you have? It's like, make sure they're aware, at least, who we are and now we sort of have a base that like comes back. They know we're coming and they know like, 'Oh, it's my chest hurts. I should talk to these guys.'"

This doesn't go on just in the gathering winter. Supervising doctor Peter Kowalski said he takes students around in the summer to show them where to find people who are homeless and offer their skill and care.

"Some them have other doctors. But, yes, we do a little primary care for them," Kowalski said. "We check their blood pressure. We check their sugar. We look at their rashes. We look at their feet. We provide them with the socks and the hats and the gloves and some of the clothing they need for the outside."

A doctor with the Buffalo marathon arranged for leftover food, socks, T-shirts and other materials left at the marathon to go to UB Heals. If you see someone homeless with a marathon shirt, that's probably why.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.