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Georgetown Medical Program Brings Students And Homeless Face To Face

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David Pirtle talks to Georgetown Medical Students about the trials and tribulations of being homeless in D.C.
Rebecca Sheir
David Pirtle talks to Georgetown Medical Students about the trials and tribulations of being homeless in D.C.

By Rebecca Sheir

A new program at Georgetown Medical School is helping students put a face on a vulnerable population they might some day serve: the homeless.

Thirty-five-year-old David Pirtle strides into a classroom full of first-year Georgetown medical students. I'm glad there's about the same number of chairs as there are people because usually when I speak to classes, everyone's sitting in the back," he jokes.

But donning baggy jeans and a black-and-gold baseball cap, Pirtle isn't a professor. Hes a former member of D.C.'s 6,000-plus homeless population. "You get treated so badly when you're on the street. You get treated like you're not even a human being," says Pirtle.

That's why Georgetown's medical school has partnered with the National Coalition for the Homeless to bring Pirtle in to speak. The new Social and Cultural Issues program is teaching students how to treat different populations of patients with care and respect.

Carol Taylor co-directs the new program and says she thinks "the public expects us to be educating physicians who are not only scientifically and technically competent, but who are humane healers."

Taylor says the schools slogan, Cura Personalis, translates to Care of the Whole Person. But she hopes these future doctors also will care for whole population, including those whose members aren't quite in a position to receive house calls.

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