Students make lasting impact on health care for area's underserved

Third-year medical student Alexander Greene (center) was an organizer of the recent Society of Student-Run Free Clinics conference that attracted worldwide attendance. With him, in front of the Family Medicine at Fourth Avenue clinic, are (from left) Brittany Gagnon, student in the College of Health and Human Performance, Nate Ewigman, student in the College of Public Health and Health Professions, third-year medical student Laura Sedic, and Rob Hatch, M.D., director of medical student education in the department of community health and family medicine. Photo by Priscilla Santos

For the UF medical students running the Equal Access Clinic, the annual conference of the Society of Student-Run Free Clinics is a chance to gain inspiration from their peers running clinics across the country, and even around the world.

“It’s invigorating to go to these conferences and see what you can do with a clinic,” said Logan Schneider, a fourth-year UF medical student and outgoing co-director of the clinic. “It’s very impressive.”

Schneider attended the society’s first conference two years ago with fellow co-director Adam Mecca. Students staffing the clinic were feeling overworked, faculty involvement was waning and patients were seeing the effects.

“We learned from all of (the) other people’s mistakes and other people’s successes,” Schneider said. “We got to see the diversity of models that existed out there and from that point we realized, ‘Look, we need to actually expand different elements of our clinic.’”

After the conference, Schneider, Mecca and other student leaders of the clinic reorganized the structure for student leadership and involvement at the clinic. They’ve seen a big improvement in clinic operations since then.

“Over the last two, three years since going to that conference, our clinic has completely exploded in terms of involvement of students and projects that have gone on,” Schneider said.

The clinic, which operates on Thursday nights at the Fourth Avenue location of the College’s faculty practice, reinstituted a monthly women’s night at the same location and added primary care, physical therapy and mental health clinics at Gainesville Community Ministry. The students also started a mobile clinic that mostly serves the Tower Hill area. Attending physicians (faculty members) and residents supervise the students’ work, but the actual management of the clinic is done by students.

The expansions have increased the number of patients the students see each month from about 60 to 120 or 130, said Alexander Greene, a third-year medical student in line to be a co-director.

Recognizing the significant impact the society’s annual conferences have had on the Equal Access Clinic, Schneider, Mecca, Greene and other students involved with the clinic teamed up with George Washington University medical students to organize the 2010 conference. The one-day conference, which took place in Jacksonville in January, drew 200 participants from across the nation, and from Australia, China and Canada. Three of the 24 oral presentations given were by UF faculty and students. At their own annual meeting, members of The Society of Teachers of Family Medicine grant space for the students to hold their conference.

“It was very exciting to have all those people come and interact,” Greene said. “It was organized very much like a national conference, which we were excited about.”

For Schneider, the experience of helping organize the conference will aid him in his future career. He plans to work in academic medicine and wants to be involved in student-run clinics after he graduates in a few months.

He called working with the Equal Access Clinic “the most important thing that I did in my entire medical school career.” It’s an experience he wants to help other medical students enjoy.

David Feller, M.D., is the faculty adviser for the clinics.

“It’s amazing how much energy some of the students put into (the clinic),” he said. “They’re wonderful, forward-thinking. You know, they’re here for a limited period of time, but they’re just so motivated to make things work better. It’s great.”

Greene said he is most excited about the opportunity the clinic affords him to help people who can’t pay to see a doctor and to relieve some of the burden on America’s overwhelmed medical system.

“My primary involvement in Equal Access is that I can get in on a grassroots movement of ‘I’m going to help one patient tonight,’” he said. “That’s my contribution to the health-care problem in the United States.”