When members of USF Health Service Corps help their community, they’re also helping hone their own skills.
The group, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is made up of students from across USF Health, including the Morsani College of Medicine, the Colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy and Public Health and the School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences.
“The beauty is that the students get to volunteer together, they get to learn from each other, from their faculty preceptors, and from the community," said Service Corps Coordinator Ellen Kent. "They get to see that when they go out there and they’re working out there in the community that they really will be able to learn from each other and they have to work together, they have to learn how to collaborate together, and so they can’t be isolated, they learn that they’re together.”
To mark the recent Mexican Independence Day, the Health Service Corps teamed up with Dade City-based Farmworkers Self-Help to hold a “health fair fiesta.”
“We serve around six thousand people a year, we educate, we organize, and we advocate," said Margarita Romo, Executive Director for Farmworkers Self-Help.
That advocacy focused mainly on the Affordable Care Act, as representatives of various medical service providers and government agencies tried to explain what benefits the farmworkers might be eligible for. The event took place two weeks before the online insurance marketplaces formally opened October 1st.
“Well, they really need to know what’s what. I think we’re all still confused," Romo said. "We don’t really know what everyone can get, or if it’s good or it’s bad. So we are in the process of bringing educators in to talk to the people about exactly what’s out there, and what is good for them.”
The students, under the supervision of faculty volunteers, provided healthcare services like blood pressure and vision screening, as well as basic healthcare information.
“I think it’s one of the most important things you can do in healthcare, because the major chronic conditions are the conditions that most people are dying of," said second-year medical school student Peggy Bettin. "And if you can just provide some simple education about healthy eating, nutrition, to prevent diabetes and all of the common diseases that come along with that—that is huge!”
Bettin adds that the interdisciplinary nature of the work is of great benefit to students.
"We’re trying to get a small community communicating and to understanding each other," she said. "And if we get that communication down to an art, that’s how we can provide the best healthcare too.”
Other students like Susan Tyler worked with the community’s children during the fair.
“I am (holding) an education section about tobacco and not smoking," said Tyler, who is pursuing her Master’s degree in Public Health. "We are also doing information sessions on poisoning, safety as far as hand washing—food safety, the poison specifically revolves around different poisonous plants you can find in Florida. There’s also some information on bicycle safety as well.”
By providing this combination of service and information, Ellen Kent says the students benefit greatly. “Just in the process of coming out here and volunteering, the students learn so much more than they can in just the classroom.”
And the students appreciate the opportunity to both learn and serve.
“I think that it’s awesome to be able to see this side of it as well," said College of Nursing junior Melissa Swertfeger. "Being in the field, we are able to give back to the community—we’re able to be with the kids, be with the adults and help them learn more about healthcare.”