As the morning dew begins to dry on the endless rows of blueberry bushes, the UF College of Medicine Mobile Outreach Clinic parks beside two tall metal silos at a Windsor farm.
In the early morning hours, the migrant workers begin trickling in to see Ginny Bruzzese, the mobile clinic’s coordinator and nurse.
The day’s patients include a chubby-cheeked, dark-eyed toddler in need of check-up and iron drops for anemia; a middle-aged woman with high blood pressure and a young man requesting a tetanus shot. Then, there’s the young mother who needs treatment for an infection; a couple of men with vision problems and a man recovering from pneumonia with lingering respiratory problems.
Coordinating with clinic driver and translator Jorge Herrara, Bruzzese asks patients questions as she checks their blood pressure. Despite the tight quarters in the retrofitted school bus and a hectic flurry of patients, she smiles and says, “I have the best job in the world.”
This is the second year the College of Medicine has used the mobile clinic to reach the migrant population, said Nancy Hardt, M.D., director of health disparities and service learning programs, who oversees the mobile clinic. This spring, the number of migrant health clinics held at farms, motels and restaurants around Alachua County doubled compared to last year. Bruzzeze estimated about 500 patients were served at six clinics this year
For UF medical students, April means finals, rotations and graduation, but for migrant workers it means blueberry picking season in north central Florida. Mostly from Mexico, the workers and their families spend a few weeks working in hot and dusty fields in Alachua County, before moving onto the next place with a crop to pick.
The migrant health visits are added to the mobile clinic’s regular schedule of visits around the county to serve local residents in need, offering everything from health screenings, family planning services, primary care for adults and children and referrals for specialists and dental care. Services are free or on a sliding fee scale.
The mobile clinic was launched in January 2010, but prior to that, College of Medicine volunteers still cared for the migrant population, said Hardt.
“We just drove there (to the fields) and did it out of the back of a pickup truck,” she said.
Despite her busy schedule, Karina Reyner, a third-year medical student, volunteered at the April 26 migrant health mobile clinic visit to El Molino Restaurant in Waldo. She assisted a physician and nurse in attending to nearly 50 patients at the three-hour evening clinic and treated everything from strep throat to ear infections.
“It was an excellent experience,” she said. “You get to see a lot of different medical presentations and really make a difference … it’s very rewarding.”
The experience gave her a chance to practice both her medical and Spanish language skills and work with a local population in need. Reyner said she plans to volunteer again next spring and spread the word to get other medical students involved.
Grant Jester, a first-year medical student, volunteered for the migrant health clinic held April 20 at a local motel. Approximately 30 patients stopped by, and he had a chance to improve his Spanish while talking to patients and taking down medical histories. Working with more senior medical students, he also was able to hone his primary care skills.
“It definitely motivated me to want to do more,” he said.
Like Reyner, Jester said it opened his eyes to the huge need that exists locally.
“I think the students really enjoy it—for one thing, the patients are extremely grateful and it just reinforces all the reasons why they chose medicine in the first place,” said Hardt. “It’s (also) a chance to get outside and put some of what they are learning to very good use.”