Friday, July 10, 2020

Medical students find new ways to serve

Greg Overbeek, who serves as president of the USA Student-
Run Free Clinic, delivers masks and hand sanitizer to Dumas 
Wesley Community Center.
In January, Greg Overbeek, a medical student at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was just starting his term as president of the Student-Run Free Clinic when news emerged of a novel coronavirus spreading half a world away.

By March, the virus had reached the U.S., prompting colleges, including USA, to transition to online instruction. This also meant that students would no longer be able to gain real-world experience by volunteering at the clinic, located at the Salvation Army.

“It was very frustrating because we chose this profession to help people, but we are not able to be in the clinic at this point. It is essential personnel only,” Overbeek said, though he concedes that closing was the right decision.  “We were looking for another way we can help out.”

The students have poured their energy into helping the community in different ways – donating supplies, making hand sanitizer and even launching a GoFundMe page to provide for other needs.

“Since March, the students haven’t stopped serving,” said Alison Rudd, clinic director. “Even though the clinic doors were closed, the hearts of South Alabama students remained open. They have continued to care for the most vulnerable and support those who are on the front lines.”

Franklin Primary Health Center could see the clinic’s patients, but workers at the Salvation Army needed masks and hand sanitizer to safely provide meals and groceries for its residents and the homeless.

USA medical students collected supplies to be distributed to 
various community organizations.
“We immediately emptied our clinic of anything staff and patients could use – PPE, Clorox wipes, hygiene supplies, socks, coffee, snacks and more,” Rudd said. “I wish you could have seen the look on the face of the lady working at the front desk at the Salvation Army when I handed her several new masks and a big bottle of hand sanitizer.”

Overbeek and other students began making masks and gathering them from the community. They donated 140 to the Salvation Army and 200 to the Dumas Wesley Community Center. “We looked up a recipe online for hand sanitizer that conformed to CDC guidelines and collected money to buy the supplies,” he said.

The students’ GoFundMe page, USA SRFC Pandemic Supply Drive, raised more than $580 toward the effort. The money helped to supply the Salvation Army with basic hygiene needs such as soap, wet wipes, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothbrush covers and toothpaste to distribute. Five blood-pressure cuffs were purchased and donated.

Dumas Wesley distributed the students’ donations to seniors and families at the Sybil Smith Family Village, which provides transitional housing for homeless families.

“It helps me feel like I’m contributing, though I wish I could do more,” Overbeek said. “The homeless population is definitely one of the most vulnerable during this time.”

The rising third-year medical student said he is leaning toward focusing on family medicine as a career. “I’m interested in community health, and this sort of project – where I’m working with community organizers throughout the city – really confirmed that,” he said.

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