On a wintery Tuesday afternoon, Leah Cihak is among the patients who’ve gathered at the St. Vincent’s House clinic, staffed by volunteer health professionals and UTMB students.
In many ways, Cihak embodies the millions of Americans who seemingly fall through the cracks of the nation’s health care system. But not in Galveston.
UTMB, in partnership with St. Vincent’s House, provides free primary care to anyone who otherwise might not get health care. Students from all four schools at UTMB work at the clinic.
“Without the clinic, I would have to go to the emergency room,” said Cihak, 43. She works as a housekeeper when she can, but debilitating arthritis has made that harder recently. “Like a lot of people, I can’t afford health care or medication.”
Freshmen and sophomores are paired with more experienced students to meet with patients and assess their conditions. The team consults and presents its finding to a faculty member, who also may see the patient. Students have developed a program to assist patients with access to resources and prescription drug programs. UTMB provides lab work although the clinic has a small lab that allows testing of blood for diabetes and cholesterol.
“It’s a hands-on experience for students,” said Katie Kucera, one of the clinic’s student directors, and a volunteer since she started medical school. “It combines the medical and the clinical.”
Specialty clinics, including neurology, dermatology, genecology and psychiatry, occur at different times of the month. Doctors volunteer specialized care to patients who have no other access to that treatment.
“Most freshmen and sophomores don’t get a lot of clinical experience, they don’t get a feel for medicine,” said Dr. Michael Boyars, a UTMB professor and regular volunteer. Students learn how to talk to patients, with the added benefit that “you feel like you’re doing something good in the community,” he said.
St. Vincent’s House offers a variety of clinical services. In addition to the evening student-run clinic, UTMB’s School of Nursing opened a nurse managed clinic in October 2008. The clinic operates during the day and offers comprehensive primary health care services to uninsured people. Although the main focus of the clinic is adults with chronic health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure, a complete range of health services are available. Care is provided by School of Nursing faculty as well as fulltime nurse practitioners.