CARES free medical clinic continues to grow

October 20, 2020
Medical students lift boxes.
Medical students Josh Van Swol, Jeremy Moore, Kyla Scott, Leah Cobb and Kacey Idouchi move boxes of supplies for people in Berkeley County.

In the midst of a pandemic, MUSC’s free CARES Medical Clinic is working harder than ever. The student-run clinic provides care to the underserved populations across the Lowcountry through its regular clinic and outreach efforts.  

Anita Ramsetty, M.D., medical director and faculty advisor for CARES, reflected on all that they’ve accomplished in recent months. “The year brought many challenges and our ‘little clinic that could’ rose to meet them. CARES not only continued but expanded its reach to our underserved communities,” Ramsetty said. 

On a recent Saturday, the team joined with partners from the Berkeley County School District and Lowcountry Food Bank to continue its program serving the residents of the St. Stephen area with drive-through food distribution, information sharing and check-ins. While the main focus is food distribution, the team also uses these events to share important health-related information, such as COVID-19 updates, and provide information to those who may need referrals for other issues. Thanks to funding support from Google, the team served 253 families in one day, almost 50% of whom were new to the event. 

Medical students working for CARES Clinic pose for photo wearing masks 
Medical students Adegboyega (Tim) Adewale, Kiley Lawrence, Marissa Boettcher, Xzavier Killings, Olivia (Agata) Walkowiak, Kasparas Zilinskas and Grace Bennfors in St. Stephen.

The following Saturday, CARES hosted a pediatric immunization clinic in North Charleston in partnership with Charleston County School District nurses, staff and community volunteers. This was the largest vaccination clinic CARES has conducted this year. Over the course of the day, 139 uninsured or underinsured children were vaccinated, and an estimated 470 vaccines were administered.  

Raymond N. DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the College of Medicine, was on hand to help to get the day started. “The impact these efforts have in our community really cannot be overstated. These volunteers are making a real difference in the lives of so many underserved individuals and families in our area.”

Three nights a week, the regularly scheduled East Cooper-based CARES Medical Clinic continues in full swing, serving uninsured patients from across the Tri-county area. Student volunteers run the clinic and see patients with supervision from volunteer physicians. With COVID-19 safety protocols in place, CARES now conducts visits with patients both in person and by MUSC Health’s telehealth platform, in addition to its community events.

The clinic sees many patients for whom English is not their native language and is constantly adjusting to provide the needs of its diverse population most effectively. Spanish Specialty Night was organized to provide more personalized service for the Spanish-speaking patient population and is now held monthly. On these evenings, the office staff, students and licensed medical provider are all native speakers, fluent in Spanish, or have extensive training in the language. 

Dr. Raymond DuBois and medical student 
Dean Raymond DuBois stands beside Preston Walker, a medical student who also directs operations at the CARES Medical Clinic.

There are also specialty clinics with providers specific to disciplines such as OB-GYN, orthopedics, cardiology, dermatology, ophthalmology and other areas. A new pediatric clinic will be starting in October 2020.

While providing much-needed free care to underserved populations, the CARES Medical Clinic also provides interprofessional students with educational experiences and the opportunity to be involved in the community on a different level. Students experience firsthand how social determinants of health can and do affect their patients, which is something critical to understand but not as easily conveyed in the classroom.

Preston Walker, director of operations for the CARES Medical Clinic, grew up in the area and welcomes the opportunity to give back, in spite of an already busy schedule as a second-year medical student. “CARES has given me the chance to help people in the community I grew up in, and that is a wonderful thing.”

Founded in 2005, CARES is organized as a nonprofit organization and is run by a volunteer board that includes students and Ramsetty.

Reflecting on all of it, Ramsetty, an associate professor in the MUSC Department of Family Medicine, said, “I am honored to be part of such a dedicated team of students and community partners who continue to give so much every day.”

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