2015 marks the twentieth year that students have provided free health care through Martha’s Clinic to the indigent population of Temple, Texas.

Martha’s Clinic was started by two Texas A&M medical students, Eric Wilke and Eric Beshires, who saw a need for better health care for the homeless and indigent population in Central Texas.

To help with that need, Wilke and Beshires started taking blood pressures every Thursday night at Martha’s Kitchen, a homeless shelter. But soon news spread, and blood pressure readings turned into a demand for more extensive medical care than they were able to provide on their own. Through a joint effort of dedicated medical students and Martha’s Kitchen, a free student-run clinic for the homeless was established.

Within a year of opening, Martha’s Clinic expanded from one room to an entire wing. Since then, medical students have continued to provide quality healthcare to the homeless and uninsured of Temple and Bell County.

What started as an informal group of like-minded students, is now organized into a comprehensive health care operation that provides patient care every Thursday night from 6-8 pm. The group provides medical care to about 15-30 patients each Thursday. Patients are seen by a medical student who performs the entire examination, completes any necessary minor laboratory work and formulates a plan of care. This is then presented to the attending physician and appropriate treatment is instituted.

If necessary, patients may be referred to Baylor Scott & White Memorial Hospital in an emergency situation or to Scott & White specialists for more specialized care. Martha’s Clinic is fortunate to have such support from Baylor Scott & White who aid in referrals and social services, volunteer physicians who serve as attendings, drug companies who donate medications, and relationships with other community health organizations who provide healthcare to the underserved. Baylor Scott & White also aids in obtaining lab data and medical imaging (i.e. MRI, CT scan, X-ray) that are unavailable at the clinic so that patients receive the full spectrum of primary care. Local services provided by other community organizations include: dental hygiene care, free HIV testing and register for CHIP (free child health care).

The students and physicians who serve Martha’s Clinic do so on a 100% volunteer basis. Fourth year students can also commit to volunteering an extended number of weeks and receive credit hours in indigent health care. A board of fourth-year students organize all the operations and logistics. Martha’s Clinic was established to first and foremost provide health care to those without access, but it also has become an extraordinary learning experience for medical students, and helps cultivate the sense of service that the Texas A&M College of Medicine holds so dear. Last year, 625 individual patients were treated through the program.

Brian Gavron, fourth-year student and board member, explained that the students see many chronic conditions that have developed into an immediate, acute need – and help with each stage.

“Some aren’t just coming in once, they will return and follow-up with us on their progress – we actually see quite a few returning patients,” Gavron said. “This means a lot to us because we are providing continuity of care for patients who may otherwise not have access, and it’s great to see them taking a more active role in their own health care.”

But Temple, Texas isn’t the only place such care exists. In Bryan, Texas, the home of the College of Medicine’s main campus, students volunteer through a partnership at the Health For All Clinic.

Every Tuesday night students and a volunteer physician provide health care from 8-5 p.m. Five second-year students coordinate the volunteer effort and various responsibilities. In a slightly different scenario, first and second-year students pair up with fourth-year students and experience different levels of peer teaching while providing care to area patients.

David Szynkarski , second-year medical student, who volunteers at Health For All explained that the experience “adds value to our education in so many ways, early patient contact during medical school and gaining hands-on experience with low socioeconomic patients that we wouldn’t experience in another clinical setting is so important to those of us that volunteer.”

“We are getting exposure to situations we wouldn’t experience at other hospitals and it’s so rewarding to help people in real and meaningful ways,” Szynkarski added. “That’s why we came to medical school, after all.”

— Katherine Hancock

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