Albuquerque Opportunity Center

Every Tuesday evening, students from the UNM School of Medicine meet with a special group of patients at the Albuquerque Opportunity Center (AOC)—a joint venture between the City of Albuquerque and the nonprofit Albuquerque Heading Home.

At the AOC, homeless men can get overnight lodging, respite care and a health exam from future doctors, nurses, pharmacists and more, under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.

Caring for Vulnerable Albuquerque Patients

Student/provider teams meet with the men who have health questions or needs, ranging from skin infections to mental health concerns. Occasionally, these patients have serious symptoms, such as signs of a heart attack.

AOC clinics are invaluable for patients who lack ready access to health care—and might otherwise end up in the emergency department for minor ailments.

“It’s transformative for students and faculty and the residents, lives – it’s fantastic,” says clinic founder Cynthia Arndell, MD, medical director of care management services for UNM Hospital.

Pharmaceutical Services

Students and providers can access over-the-counter medications and prescriptions as needed to treat their patients.

“If the patient needs an antibiotic—something that needs to happen soon—we’ll call that in,” says Arndell. “We have some money set aside where the students can go and pick up that prescription that evening.”

Real Life Education Experience

At AOC, students use their clinical skills and work with a segment of the population with whom they might not have previously interacted.

“The healing behind listening to a vulnerable patient and treating them with dignity and kindness is very powerful,” Arndell says, adding that homeless people are accustomed to being avoided. “Their perceptions of welcomeness and unwelcomeness are very powerful. If they are treated with dignity and respect, they are much more likely to seek health care when they need it and much more likely to visit a clinic on a regular basis.”

Ellen Hatch, an MD/PhD student in the School of Medicine who has volunteered at the clinic for five years, says it’s an honor to work with the men who staying at the shelter and a have a chance to influence their healthcare.

“I’m so moved by the gentlemen there—by their trust and their openness and the depth of their life stories,” she says. “It’s an intervention at the most vulnerable moments in people’s lives.”

Learn about the Albuquerque Opportunity Center

The AOC provides a safe, caring place for men in need in Albuquerque.