Health care students from across the state offered uninsured and underinsured Oregonians access to free medical check-ups, personal hygiene items, dental, vision and hearing exams, among other services, as a part of the annual Health Care Equity Week Health Fair hosted by OHSU Oct. 29 in Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Students and faculty from the OHSU schools of Medicine, Nursing and Dentistry, and the OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy worked with other volunteers and organizations from the Portland community, including the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and the Pacific University College of Optometry, to offer on-site, routine exams and services, schedule follow-up medical appointments, provide resources for addiction, mental health, housing and more.
“It’s a way to give back to the community and provide vulnerable people some critically needed care, and the students learn community service,” said Mary Lloyd-Penza, M.S.N.ed, R.N., a clinical instructor in the OHSU School of Nursing/VA Portland Health Care System.
Lloyd-Penza was overseeing the foot care tent where nursing students were washing, massaging and examining patients’ feet and making referrals for diabetes care and other ailments. Adam White, a third-year nursing student, has helped in the foot care tent for two years and this year served as lead student organizer. For people with housing insecurity, said White, their feet are often their main form of transportation.
“The ability to keep your feet healthy is really key to the overall health of the people we serve,” White said.
Serving at the Health Equity Fair two years ago cemented in Katie Pavlat’s mind that she wants to work with underserved patients. This year, the third year medical student was back working in the women’s health tent.
She said the experience does the double duty of teaching students about the needs of underserved individuals while also providing those individuals with services they need.
“We learn a lot and we also get to use our skills to help,” Pavlat said, noting how crucial it is to bring those services to the people in their communities, lowering the barriers to access.
The health fair also featured student-organized guest speakers and volunteer events intended to raise awareness about disparities in the U.S. health care system. Earlier this month, students from OHSU, PSU and OSU opened the Bridges Collaborative Care Clinic in inner Portland. Two Saturdays per month, the clinic offers free health care services for underserved individuals residing at Transitions Projects’ Clark Center.