The Campbell Community Care Clinic: Meet the Executive Director – Heather Pol (MS-II)

My name is Heather Pol, and I’m a second year medical student. A unique fact is that I worked in an all-male California prison for approximately 5 years prior to starting medical school. I worked directly with the inmate population as the Director of Pharmacy.


What was your journey to medical school?
I was born and raised in Connecticut and went to pharmacy school in Massachusetts.  Around my 4th year of pharmacy school, I told my adviser I think I want to be a physician, but she encouraged me to finish – and I’m glad I did.  I moved out to California and practiced pharmacy for about eight years – 3 years in retail pharmacy and then one of my patients recruited me to work for the prison system.   Being a female in an all male prison, I was initially very put off by it, but I gave it a try, and I worked there for almost five years.  When I turned 30, I realized if I want to go back to medical school I better get the ball rolling now so I have time for a life and career.

I fell in love with Campbell after my interview.  I could tell all of the faculty really cared and had a really positive experience.  I remember leaving my interview and calling one of my best friends and saying “I don’t want to jinx it, but I love that school a lot so hopefully everything works out.”  And, I was lucky enough to come to Campbell.

How did you get involved with the CUCCC?
The CUCCC is one of the reasons I choose to attend CUSOM.  I enjoy helping people, and the clinic is also a great way I can give back to my community.  I am fortunate enough to serve as the Executive Director; I have a pretty good background in dealing with executive functions from being an ED of the pharmacy in the prison system. So, I am happy to be able to support the clinic administratively in addition to volunteering at appointments as a Student Doctor.
What do you enjoy most about the CUCCC?
I like that every single patient is very appreciative of our services. Every patient is kind, concerned about their healthcare, and willing to work with students. I also appreciate that every attending dedicates their valuable time to our patients. Our attendings have inspired me to continue my community service when I am able to practice as a physician.
Our patient population is extremely diverse and a majority minority population – it reminds me of the prison population I worked with as a pharmacist..  We only serve the uninsured and being able to serve them is really inspiring.  Our patient population reflects a lot of the patient population I worked with in the prison system in that they were unlucky and are underserved, and they were surprised to have anyone interested in their health because they have never had that and our patients’ experiences have been the same.

What have you learned the most about your volunteer experience at CUCCC?
I’ve learned that I still have a lot of experience to gain as a medical student and future doctor.  Real-life patients are often complex and I’ve learned the importance of looking at the whole picture, rather than simply looking at managing their illnesses.  As future doctors, it’s our job to ensure our patients have a safe, inclusive environment that supports a healthy lifestyle in addition to their healthcare needs.
Is there anything you did not expect when you first volunteered?
I did not anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID has posed interesting challenges, but I think we’re all doing our best to continue caring for our CUCCC patients. The pandemic has forced us to incorporate telemedicine into our practices, and we are learning quickly how to streamline these virtual appointments. When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, we would like to continue conducting virtual appointments (in addition to in-person appointments), so we can accept a larger number of patients into the clinic’s practice.
What are the challenges of telemedicine and how are you overcoming them?
One of the biggest challenges is scheduling CUCCC appointments during the school year during the COVID-19 pandemic. The clinic has been operating on alternative hours during the pandemic and we will need to adjust accordingly when school starts.
Additionally, because the clinic operates completely on donations and grants, we may have funding challenges in the future. Mr. CUSOM is a huge fundraiser for the CUCCC and it’s unclear whether we will have that event in 2021. We hope to raise funds through other avenues, like selling merchandise and possibly even virtual events.


Student Doctor Pol with Girl Scout Troop #33593 and dog Bailey at Running Dogs

In addition to your role with the Clinic, what are you doing this summer?
I’m working for a medical technology company; they have one doctor who is looking into how the pain scale can be standarize and make it more objective with software

I love running, and I’ve run seven full marathons – including the Boston Marathon in 2012. I also enjoy canine behavior modification, and I used to volunteer at an animal shelter called Contra Costa Animal Services. At the shelter, I was part of a group called “Running Dogs”, and I would train the shelter dogs to run long distances. I was able to run a marathon relay with one of my favorite dogs, Kona Coffee, who was adopted right after the marathon! Running Dogs was a great way for me to combine my love for running with my love for dogs.

*Header photo:  Student Doctor Pol with her cousin, Dr. Scott Dingeman