Newswise — ST. LOUIS – At Saint Louis University, medical students care about the feet of the homeless.
That’s the focus of the new homeless care clinic, which started earlier this year when Howard Place, M.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery at SLU, approached the Health Resource Center to set up a foot care program for the homeless.
“Foot care is a huge necessity in the city but doesn’t get much attention,” said Talia Coney, former lead coordinator for the HRC, a free clinic run by medical students of SLU.
HRC decided to partner with The Bridge, a local organization that provides food and shelter to those without a home. Students along with Place go to the center once every month to provide services. In each session, Place directs students to assess the feet, wash and clean them, take care of callouses, trim the nails and hand out socks and hygiene supplies for future needs.
“The homeless population spend more time on their feet and this issue is frequently neglected,” Place said. “The real foot issues can create more challenges to their already limited mobility.”
On an average, the group sees about 45 patients in each visit and spends four hours at the center.
HRC is not alone in thinking about the feet of the homeless. Mobile Health Initiative (MHI), a newly formed group formed by another set of second-year medical students, is also running a similar program.
MHI offers a hygiene clinic that currently frequents two local homeless shelters at this point, The Bridge and Peter & Paul Community Services. MHI’s goal is to expand their reach to more centers and involve community members to those who are homeless with concerns.
“We wanted to help the homeless as they don’t have access to care,” said Marco Kim, second year medical student and co-lead for the initiative. “Our idea was to go to this population and give them the basic care they needed.”
“Apart from the services we provide them, they are grateful for being able to tell their stories. They are touched by the interaction as we connect with them on a personal level,” said Nikhil Patel, another second-year medical student and co-lead for MHI.
Place believes this experience will give students an opportunity to work with a population they have never worked with before.
“This program helps students in a number of ways. It gives them education on how to take care of the feet, which will be very helpful in the future as orthopaedic or primary care physicians,” Place said. “It helps them continue to experience the gift of volunteering. It provides a new level of service.”
For Coney, the experience has given her a new perspective on life.
“Cleaning someone's feet is good for the soul. It’s a reminder of why are we here at SLU as future physicians,” Coney said. “That is one of the many benefits of working with the homeless care clinic.”
Patel said this is just the beginning of a long journey.
“The more we do, the more people will trust us. People will be more willing to help us out and we want to get the word out,” he said.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.