Hope for HEALing

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Since its founding in 2006, the GW HEALing (Healthcare, Education and Active Living) Clinic has helped expand healthcare access to vulnerable populations in Washington D.C. Each week, the after-hours clinic, operated by student volunteers from The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences (GWSMHS), provides screenings, primary care services, and health information to residents in the Shaw/Howard and Anacostia neighborhoods, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.

“Our students provide the highest quality of care to all patients and serve them with respect and compassion, while promoting patient education and active lifestyles,” said Keely Boyle, a second-year medical student who is co-director of the clinic along with her classmate, Jessica Sheingold. “We have both sites up and running smoothly, we have the staff and faculty involvement, and we have overwhelming student interest.” Now, they just need the money.

“We are seeing more patients than ever and we are recruiting more volunteers than ever, so our need is greater than ever,” added Sheingold.

The HEALing clinic was established on a tapering grant from the Association of American Medical Colleges. This year, clinic sustenance — not to mention expansion — is reliant on fundraising efforts, namely the annual HEALing Clinic Auction.

The annual charity auction is a tradition at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), where, prior to the HEALing Clinic’s establishment, the funds were donated to the students’ charity of choice. Today, 100 percent of the proceeds go toward the HEALing Clinic’s operating budget, which includes expenses like salaries for physician assistants and lab technicians, rent, electricity, supplies, and lab and medication fees for uninsured patients. “Without the auction, we couldn’t exist,” said Sheingold. 

This year, supporters can either attend the live fundraiser, held on April 20 in the first floor of the Marvin Center, or visit the online auction, open until April 17.  Bidders can choose from hundreds of items, including a trip to Cancun, Mexico; a vineyard tour and wine tasting; and a dinner, play, and conversation with Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D., interim vice provost of Health Affairs and dean of SMHS.

The directors and their board hope that this year’s auction will allow them to double the number of volunteer teams — from four to eight — sent to nonprofit Bread for the City, the original HEALing Clinic site. Despite overwhelming interest from student volunteers, their service cannot expand without increased funding and commitment from additional faculty members to serve as volunteer supervisors during clinic hours.

The HEALing Clinic’s patient education committee hopes to continue developing its health literacy program, which offers classes like nutritious cooking and medication education to its Bread for the City patrons. Meanwhile, the research committee is busy creating measures by which to evaluate both student experience and patient satisfaction

At the other HEALing Clinic site, Family Medical and Counseling Services (FMCS) in Anacostia, the co-directors envision launching a program that would “sponsor” an uninsured patient, covering his or her costs throughout clinic visits and treatments, and paying for medications.

Finally, Boyle and Sheingold hope that the HEALing Clinic Board’s new community relations position can establish a mentorship program that would partner GWSMHS volunteers with young patients interested in health care careers. The idea — which could allow the aspiring health care professionals to shadow their student mentors at GW — was sparked by a 21-year-old man who, during his visit to FMCS, shared his desire to become a radiologic technician.

“We would like to be able to reach out to these patients and help them succeed,” said Sheingold. “It’s the idea: what do they need, and what can we provide?”

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