Health care access for all
UF’s Equal Access Clinic Network celebrates 30 years of free services in Gainesville
Consisting of one small intake room, a closet and classrooms converted into makeshift patient exam rooms inside the old Salvation Army on East University Avenue, UF’s Equal Access Clinic began in 1992 with few resources and a $450 donation from Robert C. Cade, MD.
“It was bare-bones,” recalls Marci Slayton, MD ’94, then Marci Hartog, the student-run clinic’s first assistant director. “People showed up with nothing other than the stethoscopes and otoscopes they brought with them. We had no lab capabilities at all.”
It’s a stark contrast from the bustling Equal Access Clinic Network that UF students run today, which includes four Gainesville clinics that see thousands of patients annually from across the state. The Equal Access Clinic Network, or EACN, which celebrated its 30th year in operation in 2022, looks forward to more growth in the future.
UF medical students in the class of 1992 started the EACN after being inspired by a community health clinic they participated in at Williams Elementary School. At the EACN’s first location at the Salvation Army, students visited homeless and disadvantaged patients once a week for issues ranging from high blood pressure to rashes.
About a year later, the clinic moved from east Gainesville into the former family medicine building on Fourth Avenue, across the street from Alachua General Hospital. Even though the founding classes who began the EACN had graduated and moved on, subsequent classes continued to expand the services available. Robert Watson, MD ’69, who was senior associate dean for educational affairs when the clinic began, says he is amazed at the growth of the program and used it as inspiration to start a similar program at the Florida State University College of Medicine.
“UF’s is probably the student-run clinic that every school in Florida tries to emulate,” he says. “It’s a model.”
Today, the EACN is a system of free, student-run clinics serving Gainesville and surrounding areas. In addition to medical and physician assistant students at the College of Medicine, students from throughout the UF academic health center, including those studying dentistry and physical therapy, provide care. Donations, grants and endowments fund the clinic’s nearly $100,000 operating budget.
Then and now: 1992 to 2023
From left to right: Student leaders stand at the first Equal Access Clinic location, inside the former Salvation Army on East University Avenue, in 1994; Current student officers for the UF Equal Access Clinic at Eastside stand in front of UF Health Eastside on Northeast Waldo Road before visiting with patients.
Clinics take place four nights a week at four locations, including two mobile units. Fourteen clinics offer specialized care for pediatrics, Spanish speakers and more. The clinics received about 2,000 patient visitors between August 2021 and June 2022.
One of the newest clinics offers psychiatric care, including medication management and brief therapy services. Medical and PA students run the clinic with on-site supervision by physicians from the UF department of psychiatry, says David Feller, MD ’89, who has served as the EACN faculty adviser since 1994.
Feller says that while other medical schools give their students the chance to practice medicine in a clinic program, UF’s is unique in being completely student-run, under the supervision of trained physician faculty. “Not only do they get to see things from a medical standpoint,” he says, “but they also learn about an organization’s structure, the business aspect of ordering supplies and taking on leadership roles. All of that is useful in any profession you go into, but especially in medicine.”
Leading the clinic’s dozens of volunteers is Phillip Mackie, a student in UF’s MD-PhD Training Program, and the EACN’s current executive director. Mackie first became involved with the clinic as a first-year medical student and has since served as a grants coordinator and finance director for the program.
“I enjoyed the idea of seeing a patient and putting into practice the things I learned in a lecture,” he says. “And it felt like I was making a positive impact on an individual’s life, which is the essence of why a lot of us went to medical school in the first place.”
This story originally ran in the Spring 2023 issue of the Doctor Gator newsletter.