Throughout the morning and early afternoon of December 8, 197 people from Liberty City and surrounding communities lined up to learn about their risks for high blood pressure, diabetes, colorectal cancer and much more.
The Liberty City Health Fair, sponsored by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (DOCS), was held less than five miles north of the Miller School campus. However, for many residents, it’s a totally different world.
Liberty City is a vibrant neighborhood facing many challenges – access to regular, longitudinal health care among them. Health care costs, access, immigration status and other factors stack up against residents, some of whom do not seek medical attention until they have little choice. DOCS aims to change all that.
“This is an amazing public service for South Florida, especially the disenfranchised members of our community,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., MHA, dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School. “For me, it’s also a tremendous source of pride, to be leading an organization where everybody is so committed to community service.”
The health fair was just the latest in an ongoing series of DOCS outreach events. Every year DOCS screens members of South Florida communities in need, said medical student Vedant Acharya, one of the two DOCS executive directors. In addition to 10 health fairs, DOCS maintains four community-based clinics and in all serves several thousand patients a year in preventive, primary, and subspecialty care.
The participation of Miller faculty, residents and especially medical students is a key to the success of these neighborhood outreach events, Acharya added. Partnership with community organizations is also essential “because they know the community and know what they want.”
On a picture-perfect Saturday at Holmes Elementary School in Liberty City, staff and physicians from departments across the Miller campus donated their time and efforts. But it’s not just about giving – staff also gain from interacting with patients in a different setting, especially the 150 or so medical students on site.
The DOCS outreach events are so popular among students than nearly all participate at some point in their academic careers, Acharya said.
For one medical student staffing the Liberty City health fair, giving back also was personal. First-year student Darren Turner, son of emergency medicine physician Daryl Turner, M.D., has a mom and grandmother from Liberty City.
“It’s very humbling to be part of this,” Darren Turner said. “I always wanted to be involved in my community.” Even though Darren grew up in Melbourne, Florida, and “had it well,” he identifies with the Liberty City community.
“I see both worlds, and see where the disconnect is,” he said. “I see the struggles in Liberty City, and it’s nice to know we can make a difference here in the community.”
His father, who also donated his time at the health fair, said, “One of the important things in medicine to do is give back, to help with community health.” Community-based events allow physicians to help in ways they may be unable to in their practices, Dr. Turner added.
The underserved, by definition, lack access, he said. Reaching this population in their own community and introducing them into the health care system can make a big difference in terms of preventive care.
The health fair started for participants at an evaluation tent in the school courtyard. UM staff with laptops asked standardized questions based on evidence-based guidelines to identify any relevant symptoms or health concerns. People were pointed toward a line of stations set up for individualized screening, although they were free to take advantage of any stop along the way.
Both inside and outside the school, new and returning patients can see UM staff from emergency preparedness, dermatology, physical therapy, HIV and Hepatitis C screening, mental health and other departments for education and screening. A darkened classroom provides visual acuity and glaucoma screening, for example. Separate classrooms with privacy dividers provide screening including prostate health for men and cervical cancer screening including Pap smears for women.
A number of onsite exhibitors also partnered with UM DOCS to provide additional services, including information on health insurance, dental health and the dangers of excess sugar intake.
When a potential health concern is identified through screening, staff can educate participants about options for care, including low cost or sliding scale providers. “The goal is to identify risk and refer them to longitudinal care,” said Sandy Ren, a medical student and member of the DOCS Executive Board.
“We want to be the bridge, to the best of our ability, that connects people with the comprehensive health care they need,” Acharya said.
The last stop at the health fair is a review of each individual’s screening results by UM physicians and students. At this point, patients receive care referrals, education and advice, if warranted, regarding healthy lifestyle changes.
The DOCS community outreach is also designed as a model for other institutions, Ren said. The DOCS leadership continues to update how and where they provide community services through a number of quality improvement initiatives and research projects. She added, “Wouldn’t it be great if all the medical schools across the country had a robust community outreach program?”
“This is fantastic,” Dr. Ford said. “It’s great that our medical students are being ‘change agents’ during these formative years of their careers.” With department representatives from ophthalmology, dermatology, OB/GYN and so many more, “this is an amazing institutional commitment.”
Visit this link to learn more about the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service, including how to get involved at a DOCS clinic or future health fair event.