Desert Difference-Makers

Desert Difference-Makers

Health Care Partnership Expands Creighton’s Service Reach

By Nicole Phelps, BA’02

Creighton alumni and students with a passion for volunteering are making a difference in and around south-central Arizona, as the University expands its academic health care partnership with Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.

Creighton alumnus George Stavros, MD’62, always wanted to do mission­ary work. In the late 1990s, the Phoenix family medicine physician began seeing patients in his home after church on Sundays. Many of those coming to his door were from Mexico or of Mexican descent.

In the nearly 20 years since, Stavros, along with his church community, developed a medical clinic on two acres of donated land 60 miles south of Phoenix in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico — a town of approximately 40,000, where fishing and tourism are the main sources of income.

Longtime volunteer and fellow Creighton alumnus Floyd Roberson, MD’81, said little by little the clinic came together, but at times it was painfully slow. He chuckled as he recalled the first clinic building. “There was no grass, just dirt to a building — no doors or windows. Eventually we would get doors but still no windows, and when we got windows, we didn’t have air conditioning.”

But the patients never seemed to mind. “We’re constantly amazed at how appreciative people are,” Roberson says. “By and large, our patients are humble people who are extremely grateful for any care you can provide.”

Patients are notified of clinic days via flyers and word of mouth. Approx­imately 150 patients, who other­­wise have no access to care, are seen each clinic day. “The need is enormous,” Roberson says. Patients come from the community and the surrounding areas to see physicians, dentists and physical therapists and to have prescriptions filled.

Recently, third- and fourth-year medical students from the Creighton School of Medicine’s Phoenix Regional Campus have started traveling to Mexico every other month for a Satur­­day clinic. There, students are exposed to a health care system that is consistent with a developing nation. They see patients and assist with the delivery of care. “It’s a won­derful experience and it can be heart­breaking at the same time,” Roberson says.

A student-led clinic was a dream for many since Creighton established a medical campus in Phoenix in 2009. January 2018 will mark the one-year milestone since that dream became a reality.

When medical student Lauren Glaser was considering completing her last two years at the School of Medicine’s Phoenix Regional Campus, she was interested in volunteer opportunities. While there were many, she was surprised to learn that there was no community clinic that was exclusively tied to Creighton — similar to the student-run Magis Clinic at the Siena/Francis House shelter in Omaha. Glaser felt the time was right to change that and was met with encouragement and support along the way.

Glaser and fellow medical student Joshua Blessing, MD’17, initially met with St. Joseph’s Family Medicine physician Sara Peña, MD, a volunteer at the Society of St. Vincent DePaul medical clinic, and Maurice Lee, MD, medical director of the clinic, to discuss plans for establishing a student-run clinic. Lee was familiar with Creighton students because the clinic is a family medicine clerkship site.

From those early meetings in the fall of 2016, the project continued to gain momentum. Glaser and Blessing recruited student leaders to create train­ing manuals, planned orien­ta­tions and involved more family medicine physicians.

Fast-forward a few months: Five third-year Creighton medical students and three student leaders welcomed 12 patients to the first clinic in January 2017. Working under the supervision of two attending physicians, these students guided the patients through their entire visit — from check-in and vitals to blood draws and dis­pensing medications.

Nearly a year later, the students are still operating their Saturday-morning clinic with hopes to expand to a weeknight. And while it may be a small clinic, it’s a big start for the current and future medical students in Phoenix.