Student-run free clinic to open at Tyrone this Saturday
Amidst clinical rotations and long days of studying, third-year Penn State College of Medicine students at the University Park Regional Campus will soon be putting their education into practice in a new setting. They have spent the last several months preparing for LionCare Tyrone, a student-run free clinic, which opens its doors to the public this Saturday, March 5.
“This is reminding me why I went to medical school in the first place – to help people who really need medical care,” said Clay Cooper, who is co-director of the student-run clinic that will offer free medical services with no insurance required. “There’s definitely a need for this type of service in Tyrone, and it’s an exciting opportunity to help start this from the ground up.”
To start, the clinic will be open the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will treat acute care needs and general health and mental health needs, as well as offering work and driver’s physicals and blood pressure checks to adults over age 18. Childcare will be provided during appointments.
The clinic, a partnership between the College of Medicine University Park Regional Campus, Penn State College of Nursing and Tyrone Regional Health Network, will operate out of the Tyrone Hospital Rural Health Clinic building.
Students from the College of Medicine and College of Nursing will serve in all roles at the clinic, from checking in and putting patients into exam rooms to taking a personal history and doing patient exams. Students will present the information to the volunteer College of Medicine physicians and nurse practitioners staffing the clinic, who will subsequently see the patient with the students. Together, they will reach a conclusion on the care needed.
“It’s very much student-launched and student-run,” said Dr. Michael Flanagan, assistant dean for curriculum and student affairs at the Regional Campus and an advisor to the LionCare Tyrone clinic. “It’s a wonderful learning experience for students, and it’s great to see them really take leadership for developing the clinic.” A group of about a dozen medical and nurse practitioner students has worked since last summer to lay the groundwork for the clinic.
The LionCare Tyrone clinic is modeled after the LionCare clinic that operates out of Bethesda Mission in Harrisburg. Founded in 2002, that clinic sees 2,000 patients per year and offers specialty clinics in neurology, cardiology, orthopedics and dermatology. Most of the third- and fourth-year medical students at the University Park Regional Campus would have gotten experience working at LionCare in Harrisburg during their first and second years of study in Hershey.
“That was a very eye-opening experience for me, that there are so many people out there without insurance who can’t just call a doctor and make an appointment,” Chrissy Clark, co-director of LionCare Tyrone with Cooper, said of her experience at LionCare in Harrisburg. “There isn’t a lot of quality medical care out there for them, and patients were incredibly grateful we were there for them.”
The demographics of Tyrone, located 30 minutes outside State College, make it an outstanding choice for the free clinic, Flanagan said.
“There is a large underserved patient population. Tyrone is a designated site for subsidized housing for Blair County,” he said. “Last fall we met with the leadership of Tyrone Hospital and they embraced the idea fully. They also wanted to supply this service and we couldn’t have done this without them.”
Tyrone Hospital offered the use of its rural clinic site, which is not used on Saturdays, and is donating supplies, Flanagan said.
Cooper said the clinic will expand to more Saturdays, more services and to children as demand grows.
Prior to opening the clinic, some of the students canvassed the community to do a needs assessment, visiting churches, businesses and agencies to ask what kind of ancillary health care services – things like weight loss, healthy cooking or smoking cessation classes – are needed.
“There is definitely a lot of excitement among the students, especially in terms of being able to shape the clinic with services that will be most useful,” Clark said. “It’s incredibly rewarding to recognize and address this definite need and, while we’re not practicing physicians yet, it’s great to be able to use our skills to help people who truly need it and wouldn’t otherwise have many viable options.”
A group of last year’s third-year medical students – spearheaded by students Joseph Andrie, Daniel Brill and Amy Du – traveled to Cleveland Clinic to see how they operate their student-run clinic and got the ball rolling for LionCare Tyrone.
A free clinic offers a unique experience that healthcare students working in a traditional medical office don’t get, Flanagan said.
“Students may spend a month with a physician in a rural community, but typically it’s an office where patients have insurance and healthcare is being reimbursed,” he said. “The patients at LionCare Tyrone may not have insurance to provide for preventative healthcare, so their medical problems may be more advanced when they are seen.”
Cooper, who plans to practice family medicine, said working with this patient population makes him more aware of the challenge of creating a workable and realistic patient treatment plan.
“These patients may not be able to afford a brace or a prescription. We need to think a lot more about barriers to care and follow up,” he said.
Cooper recently came across a Facebook post – a reaction to an ad about the clinic’s opening – that shows all the hard work will soon begin paying off.
The post read, “How many times do I need to say ‘God provides.’ I have been struggling with how to pay for a physical that I need to keep my job at school. Then I find out today, this is happening right here in town. This is huge for those of us without insurance.”
“That made my day!” Cooper exclaimed.
Flanagan said he is impressed with the pure altruistic motivation among the students who worked countless hours to plan for the clinic’s opening.
“They already have the required clinical exposure through our specialty and primary care rotations and their academic coursework. The primary motivating factor for these students is giving back to the community where they live and learn,” he said.
By Carolyn Kimmel