Medical students collaborate to offer accessible primary care to southeast Ohioans

Published: January 21, 2022 Author: Staff reports

Students at Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine have collaborated with faculty in the medical school and staff from Community Health Programs to offer a new option for quality primary care services for southeast Ohioans who are uninsured or underinsured through the Care Clinic.

The Care Clinic is a student-organized and student-run clinic that is staffed predominantly by first- and second-year medical students who are mentored by a third- or fourth year medical student. All patient care is overseen by attending physicians and a member of the Heritage Community Clinic staff is present at every clinic to help with logistical concerns.  

In early summer 2020, Caroline Hyman, now a third-year medical student, approached Sherri Oliver, executive director of Community Health Programs and the Area Health Education Center, about the possibility of establishing a student-run free clinic.

Hyman, who is currently doing clinical rotations at Kettering Health Dayton (previously known as Grandview Medical Center), first got the idea for the free clinic after her summer research experience was cancelled due to the pandemic and she transitioned to volunteering at a free clinic in her hometown.

“I really wanted to volunteer as a medical student that summer and started looking into whether a student-run free clinic was an option once I came back to Athens in the fall,” Hyman explained. “Upon not finding a clinic, I hoped to start one up, and with the pandemic shutting down the possibility of most volunteering that year, it gave us the perfect opportunity to take our time and plan a foundation that would allow this student-run free clinic to last.”

To start the clinic, Oliver and Hyman approached Beth Longenecker, (D.O., 91), Heritage College, Athens, dean and medical director of the Heritage Community Clinic, as well as Carole Merckle, assistant director of Community Health Programs and the Area Health Education Center. They formed a planning group with several dedicated students, spending the 2020-2021 academic year working to make the clinic a reality. The first clinic officially kicked off in September 2021.

“The Care Clinic, as part of the Heritage Community Clinic system, is another access point for people who are uninsured or underinsured in our community to receive free quality health care,” Oliver said. “The Heritage Community Clinic has offered free primary care to residents of southeast Ohio for over two decades, and the Care Clinic provides our Heritage College students with a firsthand opportunity to provide care to those who need it most.”

Aside from the clinical experience, students have also gained organizational experience by planning clinics and being part of the Care Clinic’s board of directors. The board consists of six second-year Heritage College students, who apply and are selected at the end of their first year of medical school, as well as a group of advisors who are faculty or staff in the Heritage College.

“The Care Clinic benefits the students’ learning on multiple fronts,” Longenecker said. “They are able to directly care for patients at their level of experience and learn from each other in the care process. They are able to interact directly with more senior level students to hone their clinical reasoning skills and also are able to have more one-on-one time with the faculty physician than may be possible in a fast-paced primary care clinic. And they also are learning the background of what it takes to operationalize a practice, something that is not typical during their usual third- and fourth-year clinical rotations.”

Aashika Katapadi, a second-year medical student and current president of the student board, was on the advising committee for the Care Clinic last year and helped lay the groundwork for the free clinic. She worked with her team over the summer to ensure the clinic could open and to recruit student volunteers to staff the clinic. 

“The Care Clinic is a fabulous opportunity for the different communities it brings together,” Katapadi said. “The clinic provides access to free medical care and resources to members of the Athens community who are in need. Medical students can also help patients and put our knowledge to use while learning about social determinants of health in action. It also provides a mentorship opportunity between students of various years within the school.” 

Students in all four years of medical school volunteer at the Care Clinic, while volunteer faculty physicians also provide integral help and support for the clinics.     

“I feel so fortunate to have put in the work to create a strong foundation for the Care Clinic,” Hyman said. “I wish that I could have been able to volunteer with the clinic once it was up and running, but am hopeful for the opportunities it will offer for future students. I still hope to have the opportunity to volunteer directly with patients at the Care Clinic at some point before I graduate.” 

The Care Clinic takes place once a month on Saturday mornings in the Heritage Community Clinic, located on the ground floor of Grosvenor Hall West on Ohio University’s West Green in Athens. Free parking is available for patients outside the clinic entrance.

“Holding the clinic on the weekend is critical for community members who are unable to attend other primary care clinics offered by Heritage Community Clinic during the week due to work schedules,” Oliver added.

For more information on the next scheduled Care Clinic, please call 740.593.2432 or email careclinic@ohio.edu.