The Berkeley Free Clinic (commonly abbreviated BFC) is a local free clinic that provides a wide variety of medical services, such as testing, counseling, and treatment of acute infections, completely free of charge (its motto is “Healthcare for People, Not Profit”). Though located near the UC Berkeley campus, the Berkeley Free Clinic is completely independent from the university. BFC is run as a collective, where every member of the clinic has an equal vote to make decisions for the clinic; though certain members choose to take on more responsibility than others, fundamentally everyone has equal representation.
The clinic is further subdivided into separate collectives among which the labor is divided: there is a Peer Counseling Collective that provides Mental Health Support, a Medical Section that provides the plurality of medical services, an HIV Prevention section that provides HIV testing and counseling, and so on….
Though the collective structure can make change hard to enact, it speaks to the values and spirit of the BFC. Free Clinics in general tend to embody the concept of Social Justice insofar as they provide a service that is often unavailable to marginalized populations, but what makes the BFC unique is its focus on intersectional Social Justice. It strives to challenge the classism, racism, and cisheteropatriarchy (just to name a few structures) prevalent in institutions like modern bio-medicine and promotes a model of healthcare focused on harm reduction and non-judgment, as opposed to the often judgmental and self-righteously didactic style of patient care typical of modern medicine.
My experience at the Berkeley Free Clinic has been extremely eye-opening and transformative. I volunteer with the IRC, which provides medical and social referrals to clients, and with the Certified Enrollment Counselor program, which helps clients enroll in health insurance through Covered California. I think the biggest thing the clinic has taught me is “to meet someone where they’re at.” To me, that phrase is acknowledging one’s privilege (and how this will bias interactions) and the limits of their empathy while suspending one’s judgment and providing the support that the client asks for, not what one imposes on the client. Though this “client-centered” approach is particularly useful when it comes to healthcare and social work, I think it should be applied to all aspects of life, and regardless of my career path, I hope to embody the values that I have learned from the clinic.
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