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Students and faculty give medical care to homeless families

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Author Chris Casey | Publish Date August 22, 2013

Two girls receive immunizations from CU students Katie Derington and Ania Sablik Two girls smile on the patient's chair after receiving immunizations at the Back to School Healthy Kids Fair. Among the 25 CU students and faculty volunteering at the fair are Katie Derington (left, pharmacy) and Ania Sablik (nursing).

Doug Clark's eyes lit up as another family walked into the immunization room.

Clark and about 25 other University of Colorado pharmacy, nursing, medical, physician assistant and public health students, faculty and alumni volunteered at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless' Stout Street Clinic on Saturday. The annual Back to School Healthy Kids Fair drew some 250 children who received one-stop access to vital health services, ensuring that they get a healthy start to a new school year.

"It's a lot of fun," said Clark, a fourth-year pharmacy student. "It's exciting. It's what we went to school to do -- to interact with people and care for people."

A total of about 160 volunteers, including the CU team, contributed more than 1,000 hours of health care to families who are living in motels, shelters and transitional housing.

Katie Derington, a second-year pharmacy student, and Ania Sablik, a nursing student, staffed another vaccination room. "I enjoy it," Derington said. "It's great to provide this service to people who might not have access to it otherwise."

She noted that fairs such as this also help educate people about health issues. "It gives me chills thinking about how we're raising awareness," she said. "If you don't start somewhere, how do you expect to make any changes? Disease knows no socioeconomic status, rich or poor."

Hana Low, another CU nursing school student, said she is interested in providing health care to underserved populations. She aspires to work for the Nurse-Family Partnership, which sends nurses into the homes of low-income patients and first-time mothers for ongoing care. "Since I speak Spanish I've been helping with the screenings (at Stout Street) and getting health histories and working with the families."

As children made their way through the fair, they received all immunizations required for school and any other immunizations they needed. They also received vision, hearing and dental screenings as well as free haircuts, sack lunches and backpacks full of school supplies.

In Colorado, there are nearly 32,000 children who are homeless. Most are uninsured, and families with children are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population.

Karen Savoie, a faculty appointment to the CU School of Dental Medicine and director of Cavity Free at Three program, said the CU team always looks forward to volunteering at Back to School Healthy Kids Fair. "I've been doing this for years," she said. "I wouldn't miss it. It's so rewarding. It's just a great community outreach."

Low is working on a research project that examines how homeless youth access the health care system. The lead researcher is Scott Harpin, Ph.D., MPH, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing, who helped organize the intraprofessional student volunteer effort. The collected data will guide researchers on ways to provide youth with necessary health care.

"For me, events like this are a part of what it means to be a University of Colorado faculty member, epitomizing research, teaching and service missions," Harpin said. "The intraprofessional education that happened here today is something academic programs desire, but rarely do well. And it's incredible to work with organization partners like the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Stout Street Clinic and Urban Peak to give back to the community in such an impressive way."

Harpin has developed a student health services volunteer program at Urban Peak, a shelter for homeless youth in Denver.

"This volunteer experience will follow our students long after they graduate from our campus and instill an individual sense of service," he said.