Creating healthy communities

October 26, 2016

Quinnipiac students with a patient at the Bobcat Community Clinic at Quinnipiac University

Quinnipiac medical students Kai "Kevin" Kuo '17 and Ashkaun Razmara '18 talk to Jose Costro, a patient at the student-run Bobcat Community Clinic in Bridgeport.

Kai "Kevin" Kuo's mother was ill for many years and almost died on the operating table because she could not afford health care.

"As a child of an immigrant family, I experienced first-hand the devastating effects that the lack of proper access to health care can have on an individual. During my upbringing, basic medical services were considered unaffordable luxuries," said Kuo, now a fourth-year student in the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine. He didn't learn his mother had cancer until she had emergency surgery that ultimately saved her life.

"It was then that I knew I wanted to pursue a medical career that focused on providing care to underserved communities and bridging the gap between health care disparities," said Kuo, whose mother has been cancer-free for five years.

Once he arrived at Quinnipiac, he and several of his peers spearheaded the creation of the School of Medicine's Bobcat Community Health Clinic.

The student-run clinic, which opened in February 2016 and is held monthly at the Weisman AmeriCares Free Clinic of Bridgeport, offers local underserved populations services such as screenings for diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and BMI. A licensed physician at the clinic provides a general medical consult on each client's overall health status, explained Kuo, who serves as the executive director of the clinic. The students are planning to offer additional services, such as depression screening for adults, under the supervision of a licensed psychiatrist. This fall the group received approval from AmeriCares and Quinnipiac to start providing acute care services for patients.

“This transition will require a good deal more planning but we are all very excited for what the future holds for the clinic,” Kuo said.

The students also conduct educational health programs at Bridgeport's Cardinal Shehan Center, a low-income recreational and resource facility.

"The main goals are to improve access to care and prevent the long-term manifestations of chronic diseases that flood our emergency rooms and hospital floors," said Kuo, who has worked in free clinics in San Diego, as well as in Mexico and Honduras. "Improving access to care for all individuals, regardless of their economic status, not only saves taxpayer dollars in the long run, but also, most importantly, improves and enriches the health and lives of our local communities."

Medical students also have an opportunity to learn about the challenges of caring for this vulnerable population. At the clinic, the student volunteers, all donning their white coats, guide clients through each test and encountered challenges not always present in other learning settings.

"The first two years are really focused on learning basic science, and being here reminds me that what I'm learning can be applied," said third-year medical student Alexa Li. "People who go to the clinic really need basic services, and I'm really glad we're providing that."

Currently, about 150 medical students volunteer at the clinic.

Developing the clinic from ground up has given the medical students "even more hands-on experience," said Dr. Howard Selinger, the chair of family medicine at the Netter School of Medicine. "It gives them skin in the game."

Selinger said the students did all the work to open the clinic, including finding a partner, AmeriCares Free Clinics; establishing procedures; learning how to manage patient-protected information; and gaining certification for the clinic. The students marketed the clinic by distributing flyers at food pantries, churches and grocery stores.

"Every 'i' has been dotted, every 't' has been crossed by these students," Selinger said. "They have done everything."

The medical students plan to include students from other disciplines at Quinnipiac who could benefit from the experience. "We hope the students who volunteer here will carry with them lessons of service, humanism and compassion for the poor throughout their professional careers and beyond," Kuo said.

“The first two years are really focused on learning basic science, and being here reminds me that what I'm learning can be applied. People who go to the clinic really need basic services, and I’m really glad we're providing that.” said Alexa Li, MD '18

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