By Wendy Sarubbi | April 20, 2015 12:09 pm

For UCF College of Medicine students who are interested in learning through service, the free KNIGHTS Clinic and MedPACt (Medical Students Providing Across Continents) are two popular student-organized groups that provide healthcare to people in need, both at home and abroad. For the second year in a row, both organizations were honored with cash prizes at the annual UCF Service Learning Student Showcase, held April 8. The showcase allows students from across UCF to present their service-based projects, and reflect on how giving to others has helped them learn.

MedPACt organizes annual medical mission trips to the Dominican Republic, where students set up clinics in rural underserved communities. Last year, the team saw more than 500 patients in five days, providing pediatric, obstetrics and cardiology services. The 2014 team was also interdisciplinary and included UCF nursing and engineering students, University of Florida pharmacy students and a chaplain.

MedPACt won the Graduate Leadership Scholarship, and received a $900 prize. Organizers say they plan to put that money to good use. “All of the money will be used to purchase needed medications and supplies that will be taken to the Dominican Republic this summer,” said second-year student Denise Feradov. “In this way, the cycle of service and sustainability can continue.”

The student-run KNIGHTS (Keeping Neighbors In Good Health Through Service) Clinic, funded by a grant of the Diebel Legacy Fund at Central Florida Foundation, provides care to Orlando’s uninsured through a partnership with Grace Medical Home near downtown Orlando. More than 200 medical students participate, serving approximately 50 patients on a consistent basis. UF pharmacy students handle medications and UCF social work students help patients with psychosocial issues like unemployment and substance abuse. UCF medical students work with volunteer physicians to care for patients and also run the lab, clinic operations and patient education. KNIGHTS received the Graduate Engagement Scholarship, and a $900 scholarship for their presentation on the growth and interdisciplinary teams at the clinic.

“We gain so much knowledge in medical school, and this really gives us a chance to apply it,” second-year student Ashley Brown said, adding that students are especially excited about providing care for people with chronic diseases like diabetes and helping them take more control over their health. “This is a really great avenue to use that knowledge to do good in the community. The judges were really impressed at how we are able to maintain follow-ups with these patients.”

Dr. Judy Simms-Cendan, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and the College of Medicine’s director of international experiences, supervises students at the KNIGHTS Clinic and leads the Dominican Republic trips. She says service learning gives students lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom. “Understanding clinic functioning and mechanism is something they would never really learn in medical school,” she said. “I love watching this next generation of students who are motivated and energetic about service learning. Having this as part of their continuing career gives you a spiritual renewal of your interest in medicine”

The Medical Samaritan Program of the Diebel Legacy Fund at Central Florida Foundation supports both programs. Dr. Simms-Cendan called the donors “the fuel that drives our ability to do service learning and keeps that spark alive.”

Diebel Legacy Fund at Central Florida Foundation was created by the family of the late Dr. Don Diebel Jr., who was killed in 2002 in a crash while assisting people in an overturned vehicle on the Florida Turnpike. The group’s mission is to “recognize, honor and perpetuate the concept of the Good Samaritan and to assist in the development of future physicians who share this passion.”

That spirit is exemplified in all the students who presented their service-learning efforts at the showcase. Second-year medical student Faith Villanueva says her Dominican Republic volunteerism has helped her learn to work in an interdisciplinary team and connect more deeply with the human side of medicine. “Thanks to my experience, I’ll be entering my third-year clerkships next month with a refreshed perspective on just how complex the human body and spirit is,” she said. “I’ll be tailoring my care to each individual patient’s needs and goals through listening and understanding.”

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