Like many Central Floridians, 60-year-old Shelly Garza does not have health insurance. But for the past three years, she has been able to get medical care from a UCF College of Medicine student-run free clinic that has helped hundreds of the community’s underserved residents.
KNIGHTS clinic, which stands for Keeping Neighbors In Good Health Through Service, is run by medical students under the supervision of medical school faculty and local physicians. It operates twice a month – every other Thursday – at the Grace Medical Home with funding from the Diebel Legacy Fund at Central Florida Foundation.
“The clinic and these students are such a blessing to me,” said Garza, whose part-time work in food services at her church does not include health insurance. Before becoming a KNIGHTS patient, Garza had gone 22 years without a gynecological exam. “These kids are just so wonderful; their professionalism, their kindness and respect for patients really gives you hope for this generation and for the future of our country.”
The clinic currently serves about 70 patients, providing healthcare services, health promotion, disease prevention, social support, case management, and appropriate referrals to medical and social resources in the community. The clinic’s goal is to provide ongoing care so uninsured patients maintain good health as much as possible rather than letting health conditions go unattended until patients are forced to seek care at emergency rooms.
“They make you feel special,” Garza said. “Even though you’re not wealthy and paying them a lot of money, they are so caring and loving. They treat you with the utmost respect. When you walk out of there, you feel really special. They even walk me to my car at nights!”
Working at the clinic not only allows students to improve their clinical skills and apply their knowledge in treating real patients, but also helps to foster a sense of compassion and responsibility to the community.
“I chose to go to medical school because I wanted to be a part of healthcare system that would better meet the needs of individuals in underserved communities,’ said Amy Fitch a second-year medical student who volunteers at the clinic. “I’ve gotten to start to see this dream actualized. I am so thankful for this opportunity to work with physicians and fellow students to provide consistent, compassionate care for our patients.”
In addition to providing general patient care, the clinic has been nationally recognized for its obesity counseling program designed by the clinic’s medical director, Dr. Magdalena Pasarica, associate professor of medicine at the College of Medicine, who specializes in nutrition obesity management.
The obesity program is designed to train students to assess and counsel patients on lifestyle medicine. It won a national Innovation Award for Healthcare Provider Training from former President Bill Clinton and his foundation earlier this year.
The program helped KNIGHTS patient Johanna Soto lose 15 pounds.
“They taught me about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, how to count calories, eat better and to work out more,” Soto said. “They gave me information on how to choose foods when I ate out at different restaurants. They were very encouraging and respectful and I feel they really do care about my health.”
Earlier this year, nine students who help run the clinic were invited to presented posters of their quality improvement projects at the Society of Student Run Free Clinics national conference. Also this year, the clinic’s board was invited to present at the National Association of Free Clinics – Charitable Health Care Symposium. The students presented the unique partnership between the College of Medicine and Grace Medical Home at the symposium that had over 500 attendees who run 98 student clinics in three countries. KNIGHTS was a unique entity because it is solely student run and incorporates a medical home model that provides continuity of care for its patients.
“KNIGHTS clinic’s success is fueled by our students’ desire to learn, their genuine compassion and ability to follow through and their effective communication with advisers and the Grace Clinic staff,” Dr. Pasarica said. “We also make continuous quality improvement a focus.
“I think that other medical clinics should adopt this model because it has proven to be effective and provides advantages to the free clinic, patients, educators and students. It’s a win-win for all.”
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