The fluorescent lights burn and buzz above patients sitting in the waiting room. It’s quiet. People sit in rows of blue-cushioned waiting room chairs for their chance to see a physician.
Some don’t have addresses. Others have limited or no insurance. And on the other side of the waiting room door, undergraduate and medical school students are there to care for those who wait.
“We’re seeing barriers that prevent people from living healthy lives,” said Adam Grippen, a University of Florida medical student volunteer at Equal Access Clinic Network. “I get to interact with a patient who maybe doesn’t feel like they deserve the treatment that we’re giving them.”
UF established the free health care clinics that teams faculty and staff of the College of Medicine with pre-medical and health professional students. The network includes four Gainesville locations in communities near Eastside, Bartley Temple, Main Street and Anthem Community Church on Tower Road. Appointments are not necessary at the walk-in primary care clinics, however patients will be seen on a first-come, first-served basis. Monday through Thursday, medical teams provide care to about 2,000 Gainesville patients per year.
“A lot of times as an undergrad it’s hard to find volunteering that directly interacts with patients,” said UF medical student Sean Taasan. “Until I started volunteering I didn’t see the level of disparity.”
Joanne Marquez, an undergraduate student volunteer, described that a typical night begins with patient assignments, filling forms, taking lab work and assessing their health care needs.
“After the patient interaction, you submit all the data for research purposes and present to the med-school students, telling them what the patient came in for,” said Marquez. “A couple days later you contact the patient again to see if they’ve been keeping up with treatment.”
There is a 1:1 ratio of volunteers to patients and a combined 1,300 hours of community service per year. The clinic provides routine care such as checking for high blood pressure, diabetes and writing prescriptions, but also specialty care like gynecology and even dentistry.
“It’s an organization that’s solely focused on making a difference in the community,” said Grippen. “It is an opportunity for undergraduate students and medical students to start making real changes in people’s lives early in their education.”
Grippen has volunteered at Equal Access for five years now, starting when he first began medical school where it is integrated into the curriculum.
“And by spending our time and getting physicians to attend to them, the first thing that we’re saying to them is that you matter and you’re very important to us, and also that your health matters,” said Grippen. “We want to inspire others to continue serving this population.” Grippin said.