August 23, 2017
By Kristi Birch
Connor Chestnut stands in a white lab coat, his stethoscope dangling beneath his crimson and blue bowtie, and presses his fingers against four-year-old Damian's tiny wrist while silently watching the digital timer on his iPhone. When the pulse-check is complete, Chestnut smiles and releases Damian's arm. "Give me a high-five, dude," he says, as the shy boy grins and hits Chestnut's open palm.
Damian was just one of the 168 kids and teens who, along with their families, hunkered under open umbrellas in a long line outside at the Kansas City Kansas Community College Technical Education Center to attend the annual Wyandotte County Back to School Fair on a rainy Saturday this month. The annual fair provides free physicals, immunizations, dental screenings and vision and hearing tests for Wyandotte County students ages 5 through 18.
The fair also was an opportunity for students at the University of Kansas Medical Center to gain clinical experience. Chestnut, a first-year medical student, was one of 48 students from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Health Professions who assisted at the fair as well as at a separate event held the following Saturday to provide physicals for school sports.
"This is the seventh year that the KU Department of Family Medicine has partnered with School of Nursing and the Wyandotte County Health Department to help provide immunizations and physical exams to children in Wyandotte County," said Allen Greiner, M.D. "Many of these children would not be able to participate in sports or even attend school without these physicals. Every year, families wait in line for hours to receive this care and also to receive free school supplies. It also provides a wonderful hands-on clinical and service experience for our students."
The KU Medical Center students worked in pairs, taking vitals—pulse, respiration, and blood pressure—assessing extra-ocular movement by asking the child to follow their finger with their eyes; gathering the child's health history; and checking vision and hearing. The students then presented their assessments to one of the volunteer clinical faculty from either KU Medical Center or Children's Mercy. Students from health professions and those seeking a master's degree in public health helped with registration, while nursing students took vital signs and administered vaccines for kids who were not up to date. A private dental clinic provided the dental screens.
Health fair attendees also could get school supplies and haircuts at no charge. All students who attend public or private school were eligible for these free services; all that was required was proof of residence in Wyandotte County.
Mariah Johnson was another first-year student paired with Chestnut. Just one week into medical school, they were able to begin using their skills. Johnson said they'd had two clinical skills labs that first week during which they learned the basics of a physical and how to conduct patient interviews and take vital signs. "All of this is part of our first block of the ACE curriculum, titled 'Introduction to Doctoring,'" she said. "Because this was my first clinical experience as a medical student, [the fair] was a bit overwhelming, but the other medical students and the attending physicians were willing to clarify anything I was unsure of."
Todd Moore, project director of the Community Partnership for Health at KU Medical Center and coordinator for the event, noted that families who participate in the event often do not have a regular doctor. "A consistent medical home provides a child more one-on-one time with a doctor and access to preventive care such as immunizations and vaccinations," said Moore.
And sometimes, the care provided at the fair amounted to more than a screening and update on shots. Gretchen Beaver, a third-year student who worked with two first-years, said there were a couple of physical exam findings that result necessitated helping the family find follow-up doctors at the University of Kansas Health System. "While giving a clean bill of health is terrific, I was grateful that we possibly caught some previously undiagnosed conditions that could be very serious if they hadn't been checked," she said.
Chestnut, who had worked as a nurse's aide at a pediatrician's office throughout his undergraduate years and also volunteered at a clinic serving uninsured people, said he was struck by the number of people at the fair and the obvious need for the services. The fair was scheduled to end at 1 p.m., but he and many other volunteers ended up working until 4 p.m. to serve the 100 families who waited in long lines throughout the halls of the building, moving from one station to another.
"There's a huge demand for this, but only a limited number of people to provide this kind of care," Chestnut said. "That's one reason I chose this career; I think we have a moral obligation to do it."
This project is one of many supported by Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, KU's academic home for clinical and translational research that provides support to scientists and also engages the community. Frontiers is based at KU Medical Center.
"The Frontiers program enthusiastically supports many types of community engagement, including school health fairs like this one," said Richard Barohn, M.D., Vice Chancellor for Research at the KU Medical Center and director of Frontiers. "When we reach into communities and support their needs, we build trust that can increase participation in research as well as encourage them to turn to our partners in both the KU Health System and Children's Mercy for comprehensive health care."