TAMPA, Fla. – By van and by foot, medical students from the University of South Florida are providing health care to vulnerable populations across the area.
This is the mission of Tampa Bay Street Medicine.
“We focus specifically on the homeless or the sheltered communities as well as the refugee population of Tampa. We have a couple of different clinics and a couple of different of organizations that provide basic hygiene kits, health care, medications, prescription medications on a pretty much weekly basis to make sure that they have access to health care,” said Lauren Holt, a third-year medical student and the president of TBSM.
This outreach started back in 2014 and it’s grown each year.
“There’s people that we’ve seen every single week for years at this point,” Holt continued. “You get to know their life story and the ability to provide some longitudinal care to people that otherwise wouldn’t have it is truly a blessing.”
“They get to practice and learn about some of the social determinants of health, things like, socio-economic status and housing and nutrition and how those really actually impact your physical health and your ability to manage your chronic illnesses by a huge amount,” said Dr. Asa Oxner, the director of TBSM. “And so they really get to understand that while they’re still students, so that when they graduate, they will be much more ready to take care of patients in a holistic way and a very culturally appropriate way.”
But they faced a hurdle last year due to COVID.
“USF suspended all unnecessary patient interactions so we were kind of barred from helping and unfortunately we lost a lot of our regulars in that time period and I’m not sure what happened to them,” said Holt. “It’s kind of the nature of working with a more transient population — sometimes you don’t get the follow up.”
“It’s definitely affected a lot of things. We had to halt for a little while until we were able to have enough PPE to safely do our clinics and our street runs, but we have been continuing services throughout most of the pandemic,” offered Dr. Oxner.
Now they’ve managed to get some of their patients vaccinated.
“We really recently have been offering COVID vaccines to people so we’re successful. We’ve had two COVID vaccine clinics,” said Holt.
They are helping others while shaping the future of compassionate health care.
“I think that I learn so much more from every patient that I meet. It’s helped me become just a more empathetic and more well-rounded provider,” Holt added.