Student Healthcare Project making difference in communities
By Eric Breier
Cal State San Marcos participants in the Student Healthcare Project follow a similar pattern each semester.
“The first three weeks they all run around like their hair is on fire,” said Mary Baker, who is the director of the School of Nursing Student Healthcare Project. “Then they really start to jell and work together as a team. And then they get really good at it and they graduate. And then we have another group to train.”
CSUSM’s Student Healthcare Project, which was founded in 2011, includes four student-run clinics that provide holistic care to uninsured and underserved members of the community while training the next generation of healthcare professionals.
The clinics provide students an opportunity to practice their skills in a community environment rather than solely in a hospital setting.
“It’s case management, it’s looking at social determinants of health,” Baker said. “It’s looking at poverty levels, lack of housing, lack of food, all of those kinds of things.”
Each clinic is located in donated space with two in Ocean Beach, one in National City and one that opened in July in Escondido. The clinics are open from twice a month to twice a week, depending on the location.
“Every location is different,” Baker said. “Each has its own personality and its own population base.”
The newest location in Escondido has already made an impact in the community. It opened in July with one patient visit. That grew to four patients in the second week and 18 by the fourth week. And that growth has come entirely from word-of-mouth and fliers distributed in the community.
“It’s really taken off in Escondido,” Baker said.
The summer-session students helped set up the Escondido clinic while community volunteers assisted with things like interior painting and putting up a wall and doors. Most of the equipment in the two exam rooms, as well as the majority of supplies, arrived via donation.
The clinics rely completely on donations and grants for funding, and they’re hoping to grow that base of donors. The Student Healthcare Project also has a group of healthcare providers, including many from CSUSM’s School of Nursing, who volunteer their time to help supervise the students.
While a medical appointment is 15 minutes at most clinics, the Student Healthcare Project clinics provide 30-minute medical appointments and 90-minute case-management appointments. Students will even help patients sign up for programs like MediCal and CalFresh or assist in finding shelter beds.
“We try to look at the patient holistically, so whatever the patient needs to help them with their health,” Baker said. “Sometimes it’s unusual stuff that’s really a big barrier to them. Other times they just need to come in and be seen. The patient is the center. It’s not the provider or the doctor, it’s the patient.
“All of the patients who come in are underserved. We don’t charge any money for the visit at all. It’s all free.”
A student serves as a clinic lead for each shift with the responsibility of directing all of the projects and work flow. The clinic lead rotates to give every student an opportunity.
“It’s a challenge for some of them,” said Ryan Sellers, project manager of the Student Healthcare Project. “You can tell some people have not led other people. It’s a sink or swim kind of thing, so sometimes we have to help them out and give them some structure.”
The clinics have increased their patient interactions and patients served every year. The clinic had more than 8,000 total encounters between 2013 and 2015 and served more than 1,000 patients in that span. Although numbers aren’t available for 2013, total student hours working in the clinics for 2014-15 was over 22,000.
“The credit really goes to the students,” Baker said. “They work really hard. They are the ones who make this thing fly. It’s because of their hard work and heart. They give a lot. And they’re why we’re able to do it.”
Visit the Student Healthcare Project website for more information.