More than 60 medical students a year take part in volunteer programs that bring health care services to those who need it most: Rochester’s homeless community, and others living in poverty or lacking access to care.
Medical students in the URWell program operate three free clinics at Asbury Methodist Church, St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, and St. Luke’s Tabernacle Church. Under faculty advisement, students provide acute care for minor injuries, work physicals, flu vaccinations, health screenings, and referrals to other health services and community resources.
“We have really worked hard to embed our services in the neediest areas of the city,” says student Jonathan Lin (MD ’18), clinic director at the program’s newest St. Luke’s location. “We are particularly trying to reach out to the city’s large Spanish-speaking community, where there are major gaps in care. For many of the people we see, this is the first time they’ve had a health exam in years.”
Student Stephen Hassig (MD/MBA ’20), directs the Street Outreach program which goes a step further by reaching out to serve the area’s homeless. While many of their visits are made on foot—in order to visit tucked-away spots where individuals live in tents or other structures—the students also drive a specialized van to bring care to city neighborhoods. Retrofitted with exam tables, equipment, and supplies, the van was acquired two years ago through community donations. Students are able to treat everything from frostbite to chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.
“This opportunity has challenged me to put myself in uncomfortable situations, with the ultimate goal of helping my fellow man. How could I turn that down?” says Hassig. “I saw this as an opportunity to have a positive impact on people in the Rochester community while also utilizing the skills and knowledge I gain through my studies. Real-life cases and conversations help cement lecture concepts and make them much easier to remember.”
Hassig and his Street Outreach colleagues also pay regular visits to Rochester’s House of Mercy homeless shelter.
“On my first outing, I was amazed at how readily people opened up once I explained I was there to talk about their health concerns,” he says. “The homeless are all too often pushed aside, discredited and stigmatized. When someone takes the time to sit down and talk to them, their response is palpable.”
URWell and the Street Outreach program are overseen by the medical school’s Center for Advocacy, Community Health, Education and Diversity (CACHED), and depend upon community donations to operate. For more information, contact CACHED director Adrienne_Morgan@urmc.rochester.edu.