Public Relations  >  News Center  >  News Releases  >  June 2017  >  June 6, 2017  >  Church’s free clinic offers Creighton students, faculty and alumni an opportunity to give back
Church’s free clinic offers Creighton students, faculty and alumni an opportunity to give back

It’s about 4 p.m. on a recent Thursday afternoon in an upper room at Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church and Wenting Tong is looking out over a roomful of patients at the church’s Healing Gift Free Clinic.

“It’s filling up tonight,” says Tong, who is just completing her second year at the Creighton University School of Medicine. “But we’re ready. This is such a great experience for us as students. It’s an opportunity not only to work on clinical skills and get a fantastic learning experience, but it’s getting an opportunity to reach out, to work together, to be part of a team and to hopefully make a difference in the lives of people who need our help.”

Tong is one of dozens of Creighton students in the School of Medicine, the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, the College of Nursing and some undergraduates in pre-medical professional programs who have taken a hand in staffing the clinic, alongside Creighton faculty Creighton-trained physicians, nurses and pharmacists.

In the clinic, student volunteers can fly solo while talking to patients in examination rooms and to interact with one another. Following consultations, medical professionals step in and discuss the patient interview with students, observe the communications between clinic and pharmacy and take in the back-and-forth of life in a clinical setting.

“We can learn about medicine in textbooks and lecture halls,” says Ben Branigan, BA’13, who began working at the clinic as a Creighton undergraduate and continues to serve, having just wrapped up his first year at the School of Medicine. “But the things I’ve picked up just being around great physicians at this clinic are the things that I’ll take with me in my own career. It’s been a great education.”

The interprofessional effort at the free clinic in the downtown church serves upwards of 50 patients over the four-hour span the clinic is open, providing examinations, consultations and filling prescriptions in a yoking of Creighton’s mission with providing an extension of the education students are getting in the classroom.

“We have a lot of patients who come here with an assortment of medical needs,” said Jenna Woster, MA’08, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing who heads up the Creighton volunteer effort at Kountze, where she is also a parishioner. “So it is a chance for students and even our volunteering professionals, to ask questions and to address different problems, while also giving back as part of the larger community.”

The service element is paramount for the volunteers, all of whom recognize they are helping to serve a vulnerable population that sometimes gets overlooked: the working poor.

Larry Camenzind, BSPha’71, a Creighton alum, retired pharmacist and a Kountze parishioner, has helped staff the pharmacy most Thursdays for the past eight years the clinic has been at the church. The clinic, Camenzind said, doesn’t bother with taking insurance, doesn’t seek payment. The services are both free and freeing.

“We’ve come to realize that most of the people we see here are not homeless, most of them do have jobs,” he said. “What they don’t have, sometimes, is enough insurance or enough money to cover treatment or a prescription. That’s where we’re able to help. That’s where we’re able to give someone a little bit of peace of mind. We’ve seen several people who have lost jobs, though, and they have to make those tough decisions about buying food for the family or buying their medication. In that way, I think we have found a niche here.”

Indeed, the Healing Gift Free Clinic distinguishes itself in several key ways, volunteers noted. There’s an emphasis on one-to-one patient care, made possible through the absence of electronic medical records.

Paper is the preferred method of recordkeeping and the tactile operation of pens on paper also translates into other hands-on methods.

“Patients here want to be touched, to feel that warm human connection” Tong said. “Being able to be present and connected with them has an effect in a good, healthy way.”

“People come for the personal contact,” Camenzind added. “It’s a one-on-one experience dealing with the pharmacists, the physicians, the students. There’s a lot of personal contact. A few weeks ago, we were dealing with a man who said the last time he was in a doctor’s office, the doctor didn’t even look up at him, just stared at the screen. We want to make sure there’s a connection.”

The connection is a hallmark of Creighton’s health education and a reflection of the Jesuit values embedded in the University. It’s also a way Creighton students are integrating themselves into health care delivery and the atmosphere of the clinic.

In the pharmacy, Camenzind and the student volunteers are some of the last people to leave, staying after clinic hours to make sure patients walk away with a full consultation and understanding of their medications.

“We’ve had a number of pharmacy students who have used this to do a lot with their careers,” he said. “It’s quite often the case that a student shows up expecting to just do four hours and be done with it, but they find they love it and keep coming back.”

Jerry Fischer, MD, who started the Healing Gift Free Clinic 11 years ago at the Open Door Mission and then shifted it to Kountze, where he is also a parishioner, said Creighton’s volunteer presence has been a gift in itself, both spiritually and materially.

“We have four or five Creighton students here every week, and they make the experience fun for all of us because they ask questions we’ve never thought of,” Fischer said. “The clinic is a good place to learn and to interact with other medical professionals and to work with the community.”

The next generation is also coming along.

Just as Branigan began as an undergraduate, Sujana Maddipati, a senior on the Creighton pre-medicine track started at the clinic earlier this year and is finding the experience energizing.

“I love it here,” Maddipati said. “I work at another clinic in town but this one is the best. There’s always a task to be done here, always somewhere to go, someone to talk with. I’m getting the chance to see what all of the different health care fields do.”

As Thursday night ran on, patients were guided between waiting room and examination room, engaged in conversation with caregivers, shared laughter and stories. The clinic runs on a store of faith and gratitude, its volunteers say. It’s never more apparent than in these one-to-one interactions, the gentle and humble thrum of God’s work. “There’s not a Thursday that goes by that I’m not looking at the crowd and thinking, ‘By the grace of God, I’m not sitting in that seat,’” Woster said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people we see are so grateful for what we’re able to provide. It’s a reminder to us that there’s so much we take for granted. There’s a moment in there for us to think about and to approach the work with gratitude.”


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