In its first year at the Church of the Reconciler in downtown Birmingham, the Equal Access Birmingham clinic, managed and operated by UAB School of Medicine student volunteers and EAB board members, has had 500 individual visits with 200 patients —a testament to the clinic’s focus on primary care and continuity.
The clinic, open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, offers most of what someone might expect at a typical primary care clinic, plus laboratory tests and healthy lifestyle education at no cost to uninsured or under-insured Birmingham-area residents. Most of the patients have chronic illnesses, like diabetes and hypertension, but they also care for minor acute illnesses like flu.
Davis Bradford, EAB president and second-year medical student, says the clinic has recently begun to offer specialty care from obstetrics and gynecology, dermatology and physical therapy by UAB faculty volunteers.
Students from the McWhorter School of Pharmacy at Samford University and the Harrison School of Pharmacy at Auburn University are also volunteering for the EAB clinic, allowing it to offer more services to patients in need. Courtney Rankins, a social work student at UAB, says the clinic also provides social work consults, plugging patients in with needed social services provided by community partners.
“The whole idea behind Equal Access Birmingham and the clinic is the patient-centered medical care home,” Bradford says. “Part of that home is interdisciplinary work, which leads to better, more effective care for our patients. Hopefully, one day how EAB works is how overall healthcare will work; we want to start now teaching our student volunteers this way of thinking and helping our patients through this approach.”
“Everyone in the Birmingham region can be proud of the good works UAB, Samford and Auburn students are performing in our community. I certainly am,” says Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., senior vice president for Medicine and dean of the UAB School of Medicine. “With help from the community, these young professionals are serving on medicine’s front lines, delivering care where it matters most and where it is often most effective.”
Bradford says the clinic –staffed weekly with around 12 volunteers— sees an average of 12 to 15 patients per week. “It takes an incredible amount of work and dedication to provide efficient care for our patients, and we can’t do it alone: it takes a lot of great partnerships,” he says.
EAB recently hosted a breakfast for its community partners – including the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham – to thank them for the work volunteers and agencies in the community do and to discover different ways EAB volunteers could connect to continue providing effective care for their patients, Bradford says.
The students also collect data to provide insight into the clinic’s patient population and its role in the health care community. Their current focus is on clinical outcomes, such as improving blood pressure with antihypertensive medications, Bradford says.
“Our research strategy for the coming months will also examine the broader impact of the clinic,” Bradford says. “We will hopefully have the data together for a healthcare cost savings analysis over the next two months, and we're also particularly concerned with the impact of social work as patients transition through resources.” A grant from the CFGB allows the clinic to track the clinical outcomes of hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, but they also will track more comprehensive measures for every patient.
EAB was created in 2005 to both improve healthcare access for underserved populations in the Birmingham area and provide UAB medical students with service learning experiences. The EAB Clinic at the Church of the Reconciler opened Nov. 11, 2012 with funds generously donated by the School of Medicine’s annual Best Medicine Show and matched by the Dean’s Office. The continued success of the EAB Clinic is also made possible through a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. EAB volunteers also staff the M-Power Ministries Clinic in Avondale on Wednesdays, a partnership the organization has maintained since 2007.
“Volunteering with Equal Access Birmingham reminds me—aside from all the books and studying—of why I’m here at UAB and why I decided to go to medical school: to help patients, build a relationship with them and to not just treat their medical needs, but treat them as an individual,” Bradford says.
Craig Hoesley, M.D., associate dean for Undergraduate Medical Education and faculty advisor for EAB, says he sees tremendous educational value that students gain from the service leadership experience of treating a medically underserved population and operating the clinic successfully.
“With this clinic and EAB, our students are able to get out into their community, experience hands-on doctoring and practice medicine with people who sorely need it. It makes me feel good about the future of medicine, knowing there are students with their hearts in the right place who want to care for people.
“Caring for a unique patient population is something we can talk about in a lecture hall, but actually treating the patients is a different experience,” Hoesley says. “I’m proud these students have been able to pull it off.”