Davidson Student Support Bolsters Strong Tower Free Clinic
February 6, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz
704/894-2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org
February 6, 2001
By Alexandra Obregon '00
When Cornelius resident Desiree Hillard decided to open a free clinic in northern Mecklenburg County, she knew the process would be an uphill battle. Seeking eager volunteers to share in her vision, she turned to Davidson College, where she found students willing to take her vision and run with it.
Since Strong Tower Free Medical Clinic opened in October of 1998, Davidson student volunteers have adopted it as their own, and now take primary responsibility for administering patients and supporting doctors who provide medical care for up to 30 patients each Tuesday and Thursday night.
"They're wonderful," Hillard said of the students. "They have had an impact almost everywhere in the clinic."
The doctors who volunteer at Strong Tower couldn't agree more. "I have a feeling that without them we would have been out of business a long time ago," said Dr. Steve Williamson, a Davidson resident and a volunteer physician at the clinic.
Specifically, Williamson is referring to John Kenyon '01, Marie Sharp '01, and J.T. Tolentino '02, three leaders of a corps of student volunteers whose enthusiasm and initiative have made the clinic a valuable resource to patients who can't afford other health care options.
On any given night, one to three physicians and five to seven student volunteers report for duty. Students greet patients with a smile at the check-in desk, create and maintain patient records, and interview patients to write up preliminary assessments of their ills. The volunteers gain a limited amount of practical medical experience, but there is a greater lesson to be learned. Dr. Williamson pointed out, "There is value in exposing students to the medical needs of the underprivileged, and to the difficulties facing society and medicine."
A large number of the patients who come to Strong Tower are Latino residents from the Huntersville area who speak little or no English. Many volunteers, therefore, also serve as translators for the doctors and nurses. Alison Kalett '01, Eliza Shuford '01, and Alison Heck '04 have taken their job as translators one step further and have begun teaching an informal English as a Second Language class at the clinic to help patients improve their language ability.
Their project is only one example among many of the lengths to which students have gone to take ownership of the clinic and ensure that it continues to meet the needs of its clients. Tolentino, a volunteer coordinator, spends as many as fifteen hours per week going through paperwork and supervising projects for the clinic, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I really love this clinic," he said. "I have put so much energy into it, trying to make it run better or to add something to it. This is one of the most gratifying and worth-while projects I have ever been a part of."
Along with their time commitment, students have also provided the clinic with much needed financial support by securing grants from the college's Community Service Office. Most recently, Sharp received a grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation to develop a preventive care class to be held at the clinic two evenings every month.
"A lot of the problems we see are preventable if patients know better or had better resources," she said.
The classes will cover topics such as diabetes, smoking, substance abuse, and healthy eating. In addition, funds from the grant will also be used to purchase office supplies and medications. Operating on a tight budget is often frustrating to the students, but according to Sharp, it also helps keep things in perspective.
"Students quickly realize that at Strong Tower every little bit helps, and it really makes us appreciate the experience," she said.
For the clinic and its staff, the only downside to relying so heavily on Davidson students is that they find themselves shorthanded when the college is not in session, and as a result, are unable to see the same volume of patients. Given their commitment, however, it is no surprise that some students make plans to stay in the area during vacation time to continue their work at the clinic--something Kenyon and Tolentino both did last summer.
The clinic will feel a significant loss this May when Davidson's Class of 2001 and the first group of trailblazing Strong Tower volunteers graduate. Nevertheless, the seeds they have planted have taken firm root, and many more students are eager to follow in their footsteps and keep Strong Tower clinic thriving.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.