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Creighton University dental students Britain Doolittle, left, and Aaron Luddington provide preventive care services Aug. 22 for a student at Nelson Mandela Elementary School in Omaha.

Students serve others, gain life experience

Poor benefit from free, low-cost medical and dental services

For the last two years, Callie Herrig has been serving the less fortunate in the Omaha area as a nursing student at College of Saint Mary.

A native of Wall Lake, Iowa, she said the experiences – all part of the college’s nursing program curriculum – have given her a new perspective on people of different cultures and walks of life, and helped her grow in her faith.

"You can truly see God’s work at hand through volunteering and helping others around you," she said. "Every individual makes as much of an impact on my life as I hope I make on theirs."

Many college students at Catholic colleges and universities obtain first-hand experience in their fields through community service. This is evident in the nursing and occupational therapy programs at College of Saint Mary, the dental and medical programs at Creighton University in Omaha and the occupational therapy, physical therapy and Communication Sciences and Disorders programs at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.

At College of Saint Mary, the nursing and occupational therapy programs work closely with local retirement centers, public schools and clinics to promote healthy living, stress management and coping mechanisms, chronic disease management, and height, weight, blood pressure and foot screenings.

Students also discuss their feelings and how their thoughts and perceptions shaped their interactions in weekly, structured reflection journals.

Rita Million, a nursing instructor at College of Saint Mary, said through these journals and discussions, students gain "deeper insight into the relationship between faith and health… while students grow in awareness of their ethical obligations to equality and respect for all individuals in our community."

Service and respect for others is at the heart of the mission of Jesuit-run Creighton University. And it’s demonstrated in part through free and low-cost health and dental care that students provide through the Magis Clinic to low-income and homeless people in the Omaha area, as well as Native Americans in South Dakota.

Founded by medical students in 2004, the service provides free medical care at the Siena/Francis House Homeless Shelter in north Omaha, and is starting a geriatric rotation at the Heart Ministry Center, also in north Omaha. It includes multiple clinics, such as acute care, psychiatric, sexual health and women’s health, that are open Saturdays and every other Wednesday evening. Students work with Creighton’s pharmacy school to provide free medications. The Magis Clinic also holds special community events focused on eye care, diabetes, pediatric vaccines and ultrasounds.

Volunteering at the clinic has a huge impact on students, said Nara Tashjian, a director of the Magis Clinic and a third-year medical student.

"It is very easy to get caught up in the books and miss the needs of the community directly adjacent to Creighton," she said. "The Magis Clinic provides an opportunity for students to serve and connect with the community while practicing the skills of medicine."

If students at the Magis Clinic see people who need dental care, they refer them to the low-cost dental clinic run by Creighton’s dental students. Held on alternating Thursday nights, the clinic offers dental services for $20.

"Many of these patients are very poor, undocumented and don’t speak English, so their access to traditional dental services is limited," said Terry Wilwerding, a Creighton professor of dentistry who coordinates the Thursday night clinic. "Students are often struck by the gratitude of these patients, and it is a good opportunity for the students to practice in a less structured environment than our day clinic."

During dental school breaks, students volunteer at the St. Francis Mission Dental Clinic at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. They provide dental care that can be completed in one visit, such as restorations, extractions, and single canal root canals. People are treated regardless of their ability to pay.

Students at Rockhurst also make it a priority to serve those in need. During the spring semester, students in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program meet weekly with young adults with developmental disabilities to practice speech, strategies for effective conversation, and social and professional skills. They also conduct hearing screenings in the Kansas City Public Schools, said Jennifer Friend, dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Rockhurst.

Occupational therapy students volunteer monthly at three Pro-Bono clinics in the Kansas City area. They offer individual and group treatment, teacher and classroom consultation, advocacy for patient services, and partnership with other community agencies.

Physical therapy students also provide clinic services.

In addition to serving those in the Kansas City area, occupational therapy students have opportunities to participate in service immersion projects in such places as Colorado, Ecuador and St. Lucia in the Caribbean. Each provides learning and service components, as well as inter-professional collaboration.

Christi Glesmann, program director for College of Saint Mary’s nursing program, said serving the community at large demonstrates to students that "we are health care providers as well as educators who care holistically about each individual."

"These opportunities promote student awareness of everyday life for those under-resourced individuals, families, groups, communities, and populations," she said. "And students achieve a deeper understanding of social issues and injustices."

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