Students, Faculty, Volunteer at East Oakland Health Fair

As families waited in line outside the Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland to received free health assessments last Saturday, first-year physician assistant student Raia Cimatu prepped her exam station.

Cimatu was part of the 50-person contingent from Samuel Merritt University who volunteered at the church’s 37th annual Holistic Health Fair Aug. 16. (click here to see more photos) The fair is one of East Oakland’s largest annual gatherings, where children and elders can receive a variety of free treatment such as physical exams, diabetes screenings, and foot exams.

“It’s an important part of our education to work with people who have limited access to healthcare,” Cimatu said. “They’re the ones who need our support the most.”

Approximately 1,000 people from East Oakland attended the health fair, where along with the free screenings, they received important information about maintaining healthy lifestyles.  Even with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), some people still have difficulty getting access to healthcare and remain uninsured.  For some of the people that SMU students and faculty saw on Saturday, this was their only visit to a healthcare practitioner. In some cases, the students identified important health problems that required further follow-up and referred them to ongoing healthcare.

For PA students like Cimatu, the afternoon saw a steady stream of patients from ages 5 to 85. Administrators at the event estimated the PA students, along with physicians and other medical professionals, screened at least 85 clients.

The relationship between SMU students and the community is an important one to foster, said Leeda Dudley, RN, who managed the church’s physical screening room.

“Volunteering at an event like this is an opportunity to develop collaboration between the public and future health professionals,” Dudley said. “Having the Samuel Merritt University staff here today has been invaluable for us, and an experience that, hopefully, they will be able to utilize in their practice moving forward.”

Students from SMU’s California School of Podiatric Medicine also offered free foot exams, treating dozens of patients.

James Lee, a second year podiatry student, said the event was the first time he’d volunteered in Oakland. “The access to clinics makes all of us better students,” Lee said. “The more experience we get working with real people with real issues – nothing compares to it, and nothing prepares you better.”
Michael DeRosa, assistant professor and chair of the Master Physician Assistant program at SMU, said student participation at such events fulfilled the University’s broader goal of developing strong community ties in Oakland.

“It’s important for us to have a strong presence in the community we serve,” DeRosa said. “It lets our neighbors know who we are, what we do, and what we’re about. It shows them we care about this community and we make a contribution to it.”

For students, the ability to learn how to work outside a traditional hospital setting was just as important, DeRosa added.

“It benefits the students to put them in a situation where they’re under-resourced,” he said. “If you can’t just order up a lab test, or take an X-ray, it forces the students to trust their skills and really listen to the patient.”

Dana Loebman, a second year physical therapy student at SMU, conducted balance assessments throughout the busy afternoon.  

“We do a lot of classroom work before we get a chance to work with people,” Loebman said. “It helps us when we’re able to apply those lessons in the community. It helps us build confidence, and we get a good opportunity to see where all this education is going and how it can help people.”

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