There was no flapping of helicopter blades or blaring of an ambulance to announce the arrival of the patient that day.
But the College of Medicine students working at the Student-Run Free Clinic at NEOMED could see how anxious this patient was about the rash covering his forearms, legs and abdomen. He reported that he had been dealing with the problem for six months and had previously visited an Emergency Department twice, where he had been treated with multiple antibiotics but experienced no improvement.
According to the distraught patient, the rash was getting worse.
When this patient arrived at the clinic without an appointment, he was desperate for help, remembers Mariquita Belen, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine who was volunteering that Saturday as the supervising attending physician.
Here’s how things usually go at the free clinic: Each month, one or two third- or fourth-year College of Medicine students serve as clinic chief as part of their outreach elective. They are responsible for clinical, administrative, teaching and supervisory duties in a team-based setting. Alongside them, first- through fourth-year students from the College of Medicine and the College of Pharmacy, as well as physician assistant students from the University of Mount Union, are learners and volunteers.
Uninsured and underinsured patients of all ethnicities (including some patients who don’t speak English) ranging in age from adolescents to adults come to the clinic for acute, chronic and preventive care. Normally, the patients are seen by appointment. On that day, the student volunteers were already taking care of their scheduled patients when this patient turned up without an appointment.
When the student chiefs asked Dr. Belen what to do, here’s how she responded:
“First lesson: Never turn down any patient.
Second lesson: Know the patient and take a good history and physical examination.
Third lesson: We can take care of a rash in the primary care setting and our student-run free clinic.”
With the pride of a parent, Dr. Belen reports that the patient raved about the care he received that day at the clinic.
“He said that students were very attentive to his needs, nonjudgmental and compassionate. And at a follow-up visit, the patient was very excited that his skin was almost back to baseline,” says Dr. Belen.
Dr. Belen began volunteering for the clinic when she was the assistant program director of the Aultman Family Medicine Residency Program. Now, she has been named 2022 Free Clinic Physician of the Year by the Charitable Healthcare Network.
At a Safety-Net Symposium hosted by the Charitable Healthcare Network Friday, April 29, in Columbus, Ohio, the organization will honor Dr. Belen and two of her colleagues: Stephanie Zampino (’18), Pharm.D., named 2022 Free Clinic Pharmacist of the Year; and Janet Raber, a nurse who is the clinic’s manager, named 2022 Free Clinic Staff of the Year.
The three NEOMED employees take pride in teaming up with the students and modeling transformational leadership.
“Even though the clinic is only open on Saturdays, we take care of our patients the entire week. Patients can call our office, and the chiefs discuss the patients with Dr. Alicia Bond or me throughout the week to ensure that we provide, safe, effective, timely, cost-effective and high-quality care,” says Dr. Belen.
“It is a fulfilling experience for everyone.”