The Community Clinic of Southwest Missouri now will offer evening hours on most Thursdays thanks to a partnership with the Joplin campus of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.
Clinic patients will have access to medical care on Thursday evenings from KCU Joplin student doctors and faculty members. Appointments are recommended, and the basic guidelines of the clinic remain in place: patients must be uninsured to be eligible for care.
"This allows for people who don't have the resources to take off work to come in the evening and receive care," said Stephanie Brady, executive director.
Second-year students will be given the opportunity to work at least one evening shift with the clinic between now and March. It's an opportunity that is rare for students at this stage of their medical education, as most will begin their clinical rotations in the third year, said Robert Arnce, an assistant professor at KCU Joplin and a supervising faculty member of the clinic partnership.
"They're learning an awful lot," he said. "There's a difference between reading it in a book and actually seeing a patient."
Learning in real time
Arnce said the program also allows KCU Joplin faculty to spend real time teaching students, which they believe to be an extension of the Hippocratic Oath they took upon becoming physicians.
"In today's medical environment, it's very difficult to have ample time to teach students in the way we can in the clinic," he said. "We have ample time (at the clinic) built in to visit with them."
Annie Altschul, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Charles Coker, of Edmond, Oklahoma, were among a handful of second-year KCU Joplin students who completed the first Thursday evening shift last week. They said they met with patients to take their vitals, learn about their medical complaints and ran a variety of basic physical tests before conferring with the two supervising faculty members to determine how to proceed.
"It was a really great way to see a patient and try to figure out what's going on," Altschul said.
KCU Joplin students are used to meeting with patients — but up until now, they have mostly been actors, members of the community who are paid to be a scripted "patient" with a medical issue that needs to be diagnosed. Coker said the opportunity to meet with real patients was "invaluable."
"It's real-life stuff; it's not a scripted thing," he said.
Coker said the clinic shift also presented a challenge he hadn't yet faced — meeting a patient for whom any type of medical issue is a possibility. Until now, he and his peers typically entered simulations knowing whether to expect a cardiology problem or an orthopedics problem, for example.
"You're relying on your knowledge of everything" when assisting clinic patients, he said. "Are you able to make the connections required to effectively assess the patient? It's a very good opportunity to see where you're at as a second-year student."
After the shift ended, the student doctors convened with their faculty supervisors to ask questions and learn how the patients were assessed.
"The instructional opportunity is very vast with this experience," Altschul said.
A 'great' addition
Brady said the addition of Thursday evening hours is a return to the community clinic's roots, as the clinic was originally open only on Thursday nights when it first began 25 years ago.
Another key piece of the puzzle: local churches and organizations are signing up to donate meals to both patients and KCU staff on Thursdays, she said. Choice Marketing took the first shift last week, and both the patients and the student doctors ate together, she said.
"It helped make everyone more human, I think," she said.
Crystal Baker, of Joplin, visited the clinic Wednesday morning and said evening hours of operation could be helpful when she is scheduled to work as a bus driver during the day.
"I think it would be great," she said.
The clinic began in 1992 when local doctors worked with the First Presbyterian Church to provide a weekly medical clinic for people in need. Today, the clinic provides medical and dental services four days per week; part-time staff and more than 20 volunteer doctors and dentists provide care to nearly 10,000 patient visits annually.
Approximately 80 percent of patients are "the working poor," meaning that they earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid but are also unable to purchase health insurance, Brady said.