Susan Margaret Barrett
Susan Margaret Barrett
On any given Saturday, a group of medical students from UMMC can be found seeing patients, taking their medical histories, performing exams, and providing treatment, all under the supervision of a licensed physician.
Nothing unusual there.
Except that these students are not completing some required clinical rotation; they are volunteering at the Jackson Free Clinic, a student-run health clinic in west Jackson.
Established over a decade ago, the JFC provides examinations, medications, lab work, diagnostic services and health education for those who find themselves outside of the healthcare system, particularly the poor and the elderly. And as the name suggests, all services are free to patients.
What is remarkable is that this nonprofit is completely managed by the student volunteers. Students make up the board of directors, students recruit physicians to provide the necessary oversight, and students provide the patient care.
As Jackson Free Clinic Director Stephen Sills explains it, working at the JFC allows students to work under physician supervision while still having a great deal of autonomy in treating patients.
“We’re able to practice skills such as obtaining a history, performing a physical exam, and counseling patients on important issues such as diet and exercise.”
Sills adds that the clinic provides much-needed access to medical services, “Patients without any form of insurance are able to have their general medical conditions managed at the JFC, which allows them to obtain healthcare that they may be unable to find elsewhere.”
Building for the future
For years, the Jackson Free Clinic has been able to use only half the space in the building it owns near the intersection of Fortification and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. But with a growing patient base and a need for additional healthcare services, the clinic had to expand.
Earlier this year, student leaders kicked off a capital campaign to renovate the rest of the building, effectively doubling the clinic’s usable space to more than 5,000 square feet. The estimated cost of the project is about $300,000.
The plans are ambitious. In addition to adding occupational therapy, physical therapy, and dental services, the expansion will double the number of exam rooms, upgrade the lab facilities, add a community conference room and classroom, and make the facility handicapped accessible.
Jackie Bailey, President and COO of the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson, remembers first hearing about the fundraising efforts on behalf of the Jackson Free Clinic. “The students wanted to keep the capital campaign funds separate from the JFC operating funds. They’d heard about the Community Foundation’s work with other non-profits, so they approached us to set up a fund.”
Bailey was very impressed with the energy and passion the medical students brought to the task. Not to mention their time-management skills. “Here are these busy graduate students, juggling not only their medical studies, but also running a non-profit and leading a major capital campaign all at the same time.”
Jackson Free Clinic board members Bobby Tullos, Brittain Heindl, and Clark Walker gave extensive interviews promoting the clinic and the capital campaign, while others worked tirelessly behind the scenes.
Architects Richard McNeel and Melissa Edwards of JBHM Architects donated their services to design and plan the renovations. Contractor Ray Floyd of Fountain Construction organized the subcontractors and developed the plan for the construction.
The renovated building will be medical grade and meet all federal and state requirements for a health-care facility. Thanks to the support of the local community, as well as major gifts from the Schools of Medicine and Health Related Professions at UMMC and Health Management Associates, Inc., the campaign raised the $300,000 needed for construction, by this past May.
But the Jackson Free Clinic board hasn’t stopped there. Recognizing there will always be a need to cover costs for equipment, supplies and overhead, they have set up an endowed second fund at the Community Foundation.
Giving back and then some
Sills, now a fourth-year medical student, grew up in Vicksburg and graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in microbiology. He started volunteering at the Jackson Free Clinic as a first year student and now serves as the clinic’s director.
From the beginning, he says he found it refreshing to put the books away for several hours on a Saturday and learn to practice medicine in a very practical way. For him, working with upper-level medical students gave him a sense of what it’s like to take care of patients in a busy clinic setting.
On a typical Saturday, students begin arriving at the clinic around 11:30 a.m. and are divided into teams of at least one upper-level student and several lower-level students. Each team begins seeing patients at noon. All patient cases are presented to a board-licensed physician, who signs off on any treatment prescribed.
It’s a terrific way to give students patient-care experience, yet provide a much-needed service. Once the clinic expansion is complete, occupational therapy and physical therapy students will also be able to volunteer and get hands-on experience. Eventually, the Jackson Free Clinic board hopes to add pharmacy and dentistry students to the mix.
Clearly, the student volunteers at Jackson Free Clinic are deeply committed and certainly multi-talented.
As Sills sums it up, “I enjoyed the opportunity to have such an impact in my patients’ lives. I found that it was the perfect way to blend public service with educating myself for my future career.”