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UCSF Flu Crew Delivers Free Vaccines To Mushroom Farmers

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Medical student giving flu shot to mushroom farm worker
Onur Yenigun, MS1, administers his 30th flu vaccine of the day.
Photo: Jeffrey Chen


By Jeffrey Chen, MS 1

It’s 6:45 am on a Saturday. The sun has yet to rise, and the early-morning San Francisco wind whips my face as I climb the steep hill to Parnassus to meet up with eight of my fellow medical students. Despite the chilly hour, we are all eager to head out to rural Monterey County, two hours south.

Since 2011, the UCSF Flu Crew has been mobilizing teams of medical and nursing students to give out free flu shots throughout the Greater Bay Area. For this particular event, the team is heading to the Royal Oaks Mushroom Farm near Salinas, CA, to vaccinate scores of workers and their families.

After a pit stop in San Jose to load up on vaccines and supplies, we drive to the farm and set up a makeshift clinic in a conference room. We had learned our injection techniques two weeks earlier: sterilize, pinch, dart, aspirate, inject, band-aid. The process was simple enough. But we also learned the “social touch”: Greet our patients with a smile and a handshake, then thank them after the injection. Now is our chance to put these skills to use and meet some of our first patients in the community.

As farm employees trickle in, we work in pairs—one student preparing the vaccines, the other greeting, injecting, and thanking the patients. Our two faculty preceptors, Dr. Walt Newman and Dr. Jordan Rinker, make sure the process runs smoothly, and if a student forgets to reach out a hand before sitting the patient down, they remind us of the importance of the social touch.

“It’s so important that new medical students learn effective bedside manner early,” emphasizes Dr. Newman, as the line outside the clinic grew longer and longer.

Throughout the day, we meet mushroom growers, pickers, cleaners, and packers. We meet their spouses and their kids. Many speak Spanish and very little English, while most of our team speaks very little Spanish. However, armed with our social touch and essential phrases such as "¿Cómo estás?", we each meet and vaccinate around 30 patients.

In the process, we see different human stories unfold. There is the 10-year-old girl who bravely goes first to set an example for her nervous mother. There is the worker who tells us he's been happily working at the farm for over 25 years, before many of us were even born.

By the time we wrap up the clinic, we’ve given out a total of 228 free flu shots, along with our greetings and thank-you's. And every single patient thanked us in return, including the 4-year-old boy who at first came in crying.

“It was so different and powerful to shake someone's hand before and after a medical procedure than in any other circumstance,” remarks Hannah Joo, a fellow first-year medical student on this team. “It was the most significant contribution I have made directly to anyone's health, and I felt proud to be part of the UCSF Flu Crew.”

At the end of the day, we had refined both our injection techniques and bedside manners. We were rewarded with thanks, stories, and mushrooms. As medical students, this is exactly what we signed up for.


Learn more about the UCSF Flu Crew