Medical students run health clinic in the Jesuit tradition

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The young man wearing khakis, a dress shirt and a white medical coat stepped into the waiting room and called out a patient's name.

He greeted the middle-aged woman politely, looked her in the eyes and smiled. "Hi. My name is Andrew. I'm a first-year medical student, and I'll be working with you. To start off, we're going to get your weight and height. Let's go to this first door, right over here."

On this Saturday morning, the medical school students who staff the St. Louis University Health Resource Center couldn't have been more caring, upbeat and focused in their approach to the 19 patients they helped. The clinic is operated by the students under the guidance of St. Louis University doctors.

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Jesuit tradition

The Health Resource Center is celebrating its 20th year in north St. Louis, reaching an underserved and underinsured population. It now has a newer, larger and more appropriate facility. And while the new quarters make their job easier and more comfortable for patients, it's clear that the attentiveness of the volunteer staff and their concern for their patients is what makes it a success. They take seriously what is stated in a sign in the waiting room: "Serving our community in the Jesuit tradition."

Matthew DeCuffa, who is one of six second-year medical students on the leadership team, said that the Jesuit university instills a service component, motivating students to give back to the community.

With the Jesuit tradition and a big push toward service, providing primary care for those who are less fortunate is a good fit, said DeCuffa, a California native who attended 12 years of Catholic education before heading to UCLA for his undergraduate degree.

"Our school, the students and physicians, everyone here is invested in providing the best patient care we can," he said. St. Louis University provides basic bloodwork and other tests free of charge, with the volunteer physician reviewing lab results and patients contacted afterward.

DeCuffa said the clinic has a professional feel to it, making patients more comfortable. Twice the size of its previous location at St. Augustine Parish, the modern and well-equipped clinic space offers students the potential to care for more patients and expand the services they offer. Private interview rooms, brighter lighting and year-round heating and cooling are features that were not available in the previous location.

Staying healthy

Deanna Johnson has been coming to the clinic for about 10 years. She said she especially likes the privacy of the new site. "They really care for their patients. They provide everything you need to be healthy. They help with prescriptions and to find resources to help me take care of myself," she said.

Johnson noted that she works in child care and has no insurance. The clinic is handy by being open on a weekend, she noted.

Rikki Koehler, a first-year student, summed up the importance of the clinic: "It offers people who don't normally get health care a chance to get quality care from an academic institution."

Katie Gray, another student lead coordinator, said the clinic is an opportunity for students to be a part of the community, "possibly making a difference in people's lives." She noted that the work has a social justice aspect since people have a right to health care.

Patient care

First- or second-year medical students are the first ones to see patients, taking their vital signs and medical history. A third- or fourth-year medical student does a physical exam. Then the medical students confer with a volunteer physician-faculty member who reviews cases, answers questions and prescribes medication.

The process is designed to provide an educational component along with quality patient care.

Many of the patients rely on the clinic to provide them with an immunization needed for them to start a new job.

The clinic is part of the Missouri Vaccines for Children program, which provides vaccines at no charge and a program through Glaxo SmithKline, which provides reimbursement to the clinic for people it treats who have proof of income of below 200 percent of the poverty line.

David Westrich, a second-year student and one of the lead coordinators, recalled one time when a patient visiting St. Louis from China came to the clinic with a bad case of osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone caused by bacteria. The treatment was difficult because the man had no insurance and needed an X-ray. He was referred to St. Louis Connectcare, which served those in need with specialty clinics and an urgent care center. Last month, Connectcare announced that it is eliminating its services.

About 90 percent of SLU medical students spend some time volunteering at the clinic, and on evaluations, 40 percent of the graduates say the clinic was their best educational experience, the most frequently mentioned of all their experiences.

'Just amazing'

Dr. John E. Morley, Dammert professor of gerontology at SLU, has been the medical director of the clinic for the past 20 years. "It's phenomenal that the students have managed to keep it going, just amazing," he said. "The quality of care is superb. And it still fills an absolute need in the community."

On Nov. 16, Msgr. Robert ("Father Bob") Gettinger, pastor of St. Augustine Parish in north St. Louis, came to the clinic to bless it. The medical students presented a plaque to him to express gratitude to the parish for providing a home for the clinic for the previous 20 years.

"What a pad," the parish priest exclaimed to a gathering in the waiting room, calling the students super-doctors. "We thank the Lord for this wonderful establishment. It's such a blessing. Can you imagine being served by all these doctors-to-be? They have the best bedside manner ever, taught to them by Dr. Morley."

He prayed that the staff will always have "the joy and spirit of love, concern and sympathy."

Resource Center

• Served 740 adult patients (72 percent female) and 231
pediatric patients (with 193 immunized) last year, with some patients
served in multiple visits.

• 75 percent of clients have no primary care provider.

• 73 percent of patients have no health insurance.

• More than half of the patients travel from the nine zip codes closet to the clinic.

For information,
see www.medschool.slu.edu/hrc. Donations can be made online through the
website or by sending a check payable to “SLUSOM Health Resource
Center” to: Health Resource Center, 1402 S. Grand Blvd, Room M238, St.
Louis, MO 63104-1080. To donate items for the April auction, contact
Peony Khoo at ckhoo@slu.edu.

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