This is a unifying trait of training clinics. While your confidentiality is always protected by law, your file -- your body -- is an open educational text. Depending on your comfort level, this can be seen as either a great bonus or one very long awkward moment.
Cradle to graveAt psychology clinics, the extra eyes are hidden. Counseling sessions are one-on-one, but are observed through audiotape, videotape and one-way glass. Patients legally agree to this at the outset, but can ask permission later for some private sessions.
These clinics tend to have sliding-fee scales that offer mental health services for a fraction of the hourly rates seen in private practice. Low-income patients might pay several dollars, while middle-income workers still benefit at slightly higher rates.
The care can be less critical. Need some Swedish therapy? Massage schools offer half-price hours in their student clinics, say $30 instead of $60. Or want a doula for information and emotional support during childbirth? Dona International refers people to doulas-in-training willing to provide free services.
This is by no means a conclusive list of available services. It's merely a reminder that students are out there and need bodies. Sometimes literally. How do you think mortuary-science students hone their embalming skills? Yup, they embalm bodies of the indigent and the poor referred by funeral homes. At some schools, students even conduct the funeral services.
How to find a schoolThe trick, in every case, is to find the service. Without a national health-care system, we don't have a one-stop listing of providers. The nearest university is your best starting point.
The U.S. Department of Education does have a search engine to help locate schools by ZIP code and type. National professional and educational associations also list schools by location. University psychology departments can tell you where their graduate students do their clinical training. State and city departments of health and human services will post information about community health centers.
It doesn't hurt to check medical schools, too, even if you're some distance away. Medical students sometimes staff modest clinics in targeted communities and do outreach in rural areas.Don't forget that second prong of health education: research. University medical researchers need volunteers for clinical trials. While trials do pay a modest fee, the real benefit is the potential for treatment. The qualification standards are rigorous. Researchers typically need people who have a medical condition but are otherwise healthy.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health maintains a list of upcoming trials at ClinicalTrials.gov that's searchable by location and condition. It also has a place to register for future trials.
"Usually you get the latest treatment and the best treatment, usually by the best doctors in the field," said Mali Einen, a clinical research coordinator at Stanford University. By participating in a trial, she received a drug for narcolepsy seven years before its FDA approval.
In the end, if you do benefit from educational training or research, it's possible to continue the cycle of giving: Bodies donated to science can be embalmed by mortuary-science students, then used as anatomy cadavers for medical school students.
Updated Sept. 2, 2008