Students Provide Care in the Community through Student-Run Free Clinic

Classroom Perspectives

Two Saturday mornings a month, dozens of people with a variety of health issues come to the Student-Run Free Clinic offered by Case Western Reserve University.

“People start lining up before we’re open,” said Maggie Mooney, a nursing school graduate student and co-clinical coordinator.

The clinic, which opened in October 2011, is a huge draw to both people in need of free health care and students from the university’s medical and nursing schools who are eager to put their classroom lessons to use treating patients in a clinical setting. Begun as a pilot funded by a grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and operated at the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland, the clinic generally operates on a first-come, first-served basis, though the student clinicians also try to accommodate the most severe and urgent needs, regardless of place in line.

“That might be the hardest thing: turning people away,” said Harrison Cash, a first-year medical student and co-clinical coordinator.

Student volunteers serve in two roles: case managers who initially interview patients, record vital signs and address any behavioral and social health needs, and clinicians who conduct medical exams and devise treatment plans under the supervision of volunteer doctors and nurse practitioners from the School of Medicine, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Free Medical Clinic, University Hospitals Case Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth Medical Center.

The clinic is currently able to offer acute care only, not long-term care for chronic conditions like diabetes, though it does offer presentations on chronic health issues in the lobby of the clinic where patients wait to be seen. The patients’ needs range from the flu to job-related physical exams, according to Jason Chen, who is serving as the student clinical co-director from the medical school in the clinic’s second year.

He said the clinic has three purposes: serving the community, providing an opportunity for students to learn with real patients, and fostering collaboration between future doctors and nurses.

“There’s historically a disconnect between doctors and nurses,” Chen said.

This team-based approach can make patients’ visits longer than a typical trip to the doctor’s office, but they seem to appreciate the extra attention. “Patients feel like they’re actually being heard,” said David Lawrence, student clinical co-director from the medical school for the clinic’s first year. “The students come to listen to them.” He says patients routinely rate the clinic’s services as 4.6 to 4.8 on a 5-point scale.

Lawrence and Chen both said they hope to see the Student-Run Free Clinic expand in the future in order to serve more patients and give more students the opportunity to get involved.