Service Learning

Where education meets the needs of the community

On a recent Thursday evening, new patients fill the waiting room at the EVMS HOPES Clinic — the state’s first student-run free clinic. An EVMS MD student asks the first patient, “Como puedo ayudarte?” The conversation continues in Spanish, because tonight the clinic is operating under a different name: La Clinica Comunitaria Esperanza.

It is the inaugural Spanish-speaking HOPES Clinic offered by EVMS as part of the Service Learning program.

Working in the HOPES Clinic or being certified in medical Spanish are just two of the 12 Service Learning initiatives students can choose from as part of their degrees. They fall under five areas of need in eastern Virginia: first response; nutrition and exercise; underserved and health inequities; elderly and chronically ill; and infectious disease.

“It is our desire to develop extraordinary community-oriented physicians, and we see service learning as a key part of that development process,” says Ronald Flenner, MD (MD ’89), the James E. Etheridge Jr. Distinguished Professor, Vice Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Internal Medicine. “It strengthens foundational science knowledge, clinical skills and problem-solving abilities in the context of real-world experience.”

In addition to the benefits for students, making a difference in the community is a guiding principle of the EVMS vision. “Clinica Esperanza was designed to combine two areas of need to better serve the community,” says Don Robison, PhD, Director of Service Learning and Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine. “We hope to continue to combine projects like these and make a greater impact.”

One Clinica Esperanza patient told Brian Colchao, MD Class of 2019, that he was surprised to find so many Spanish speakers in one clinic, and because of that, he felt confident in the care he was receiving. “He reminded me how much of a difference it makes in the patient experience when the physician is able to connect on a social, cultural and linguistic level,” Mr. Colchao says. The patient’s words left a lasting impression. Mr. Colchao says this experience will inform the way he practices medicine.

The real-world context of service learning helps students integrate their foundational science knowledge and clinical skills with problem-solving abilities. Students follow one of five pathways. Each with a specific set of activities:

Bystander CPR
When EVMS faculty and students learned that only 12 percent of Norfolk patients who had heart attacks received bystander CPR, as compared to the national average of 34 percent, they created the Bystander CPR track. After medical students become certified in Bystander CPR instruction, they work with an inter-professional team to conduct trainings in high-risk communities.
Community Stroke Awareness
Nationwide, stroke accounts for one in 20 deaths . Receiving immediate treatment can significantly reduce odds of post-stroke disability. In this service-learning track, students first qualify as Advanced Stroke Life Support instructors and then train residents in high-risk stroke communities.
Choosing Healthy Options for Wellness (CHOW)
CHOW is focused on combating chronic illnesses, such as hypertension and diabetes, with nutrition and exercise. The objective is to empower and educate patients, students and health-care professionals to pursue healthy eating and exercise.
Lifting Spirits, Improving Bodies, Feeding Souls, Transforming Lives (LIFT)
LIFT is a nonprofit foundation that offers nutrition, fitness and job-placement training and services to homeless individuals and others in need. Participating students help support these efforts in the areas of nutrition, food shopping and education.
Young at Heart
Participants in this service learning program serve and work with administrators and educators at Norfolk schools in low-income areas. The goal of the project is to provide a structured and safe environment for the children in these communities and provide supplementary instruction in exercise, nutrition, foundational education and the fine arts.
HOPES Free Clinic
Under the supervision of a physician, students at the HOPES clinic address the health needs of underserved individuals. Utilizing Norfolk Department of Public Health facilities, MD and health-professions students see patients during evening hours to provide long-term primary and specialty care to uninsured Norfolk residents.
Chesapeake Care Clinic
This safety-net clinic is focused on providing quality health and dental care to uninsured and low-income Chesapeake residents. Students explore the dynamics of safety-net care and develop an appreciation for transportation and social services challenges that underserved patients face.
Medical Spanish
Individuals of Hispanic origin are the fastest growing population in Virginia; however, they are often underserved due to a language barrier. In response, EVMS developed the Medical Spanish project that certifies students as Spanish-speaking clinicians. From there, students work in clinics and with Spanish-speaking church congregations to begin clinical outreach.
Beyond Clinic Walls
Students form inter-professional teams to make home visits to underserved elderly. Students check the food supply, inspect the home for safety hazards, review medications and socialize with the participants.
Albero House
Albero House is a division of St. Mary’s Home, a long-term care home for young adults with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. EVMS students help residents perform daily activities, such as eating and transport. They also research new ways to improve care.
HIV Treatment Quality Improvement
Students identify resources and develop strategies to assess the needs of community members living with HIV. By determining baseline data, students prioritize which performance measures or needs might provide the maximum benefit to patients. With their team, students create a project that improves performance in a selected measure.
STI-Focused Community Needs Assessment
Students study methods for gathering relevant community-focused data on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They analyze and synthesize the data presented in a research project that makes recommendations on how to reduce the risk for STIs.