Medical Students Offer Free Health Service at Neighborhood Center

November 24, 2004

A group of University of Rochester medical students have taken the first step toward establishing their own health center, by seeing patients for free on Tuesday evenings at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center.

Student-run health centers have been operating in the United States since the 1960s, but this is the first venture by the UR School of Medicine and Dentistry. It allows the students to enrich their clinical experience in a new way. Most St. Joe’s patients are uninsured, so in addition to diagnosing and treating illnesses, the students are challenged to recruit specialists to volunteer their services and learn about access to free or low-cost pharmaceuticals and lab tests.

In turn, St. Joseph’s is able to expand its hours. Located at 417 South Ave. in the South Wedge neighborhood, it already provides health services for 55 hours a week. Now the center can remain open from 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays.

UR Family Medicine physicians supervise the students at all times. “This is a wonderful opportunity for the medical students to provide an important service while experiencing the rewards of delivering primary care to an underserved population,” said Thomas L. Campbell, M.D., William Rocktaschel Chair and Professor of Family Medicine, and associate director of the UR Center for Primary Care. “I am hopeful that this experience will influence their career choices and encourage them to care for the uninsured throughout their professional lives.”

 Christine Wagner, SSJ, director of St. Joseph’s, adds, “I’m very excited to have the students here. This has opened up a nice connection with the university, and it helps us to provide a service to a growing number of people who are working more than one job and yet don’t have a lot of options for medical care.”

Deepa Camenga, a fourth-year medical student, researched the idea for a year and visited three other student-run clinics in New York, while leading the startup with St. Joseph’s.

 “There are a lot of young people in medical school who are truly committed to working in this community,” Camenga said. “This has taught me that if you are organized, persistent, and really honest in what you’re trying to do, things will come together.”

The students’ first evening at St. Joseph’s was September 14. They work in teams of eight each week, with a total of 24 doctors-in-training that rotate through the center. They plan to see patients 50 weeks a year. So far, they have treated people of all ages with all types of conditions, from rashes to heart problems to neurological symptoms.

The UR offers medical students many opportunities to work in the community throughout their training. Last year, for example, medical students performed sports physicals for 200 children in the City School District. But this is the most comprehensive project for improving health while also promoting a sense of social justice and collaboration, said Adrienne Morgan, director of Community Outreach at the medical school.

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