BANDaids for BRIDGE combines students’ passion for health care with entertainment

By Saundra Amrhein

The fourth annual BANDaids for BRIDGE talent show and fundraiser for the USF BRIDGE Healthcare Clinic will be held on Friday, Jan. 9, from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at T. Pepin’s Hospitality Centre, 4121 N. 50th St. in Tampa.

All profits will go to the student-run clinic, which provides free health care to residents of the University Area Community. The 18 talent acts by USF Health students, staff and faculty include a standup comic, a Bollywood dance troupe, the USF Health Orchestra & Choir, an a cappella group, solo singers and other performers. Tickets are $20 for USF students and $45 for faculty, staff and guests. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.usf.edu/ua/md/BRIDGE.

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Since its inception, the talent show and fundraiser – begun by fourth-year medical student Madeline Snyder – has raised more than $30,000 for the clinic. While science, biochemistry and physics were Snyder’s principal loves as she grew up, the multi-talented medical student had also starred in plays and musical productions all through elementary and high school.

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As it has been for Snyder, the BANDaids for Bridge talent show is a great way for the doctors, students and faculty to bring together their professional calling with a companion passion for music, dance and entertainment, says current talent show director and second-year medical student Michael Carr.

Carr, a piano player since the age of 3 and a volunteer at the BRIDGE clinic, says he almost majored in music before deciding to keep it as a beloved hobby and devote his career to medicine. The talent show allows him to combine the two while helping the clinic – something to which he felt a strong connection, as a Tampa native. The clinic, he says, plays a crucial role in helping provide health care for struggling families in the community while also giving medical students like him a unique chance to practice skills they’re learning in the classroom.

“It’s a huge learning opportunity for us,” Carr says. “These are real patients with real problems.”

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Michael Carr, talent show director and second-year medical student

Tampa, FL – It is a Tuesday evening, shortly before 6 p.m., and as patients start to trickle in, Jennifer Lee calls about a dozen students – clad in short, white jackets – to their feet.

“Team four!” says Lee, a second-year medical student at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, working her way down a dry erase board that outlines assignments for five teams of medical students and doctors. “Alex, you’re going to be with Dr. Slone. You know the drill.”

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One night a week for the last seven years, medical students have been paired with physicians from USF Health at the student-run USF BRIDGE Healthcare Clinic. Together with students from colleges and schools of pharmacy, physical therapy, public health and social work – as well as student interpreters – they donate their time as volunteers to provide free medical care and services to University Area Community residents.

“This is really a collaborative effort,” Lee says as the students make their way to assignments through the corridors of the clinic on the fourth floor of the Morsani Center.

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Now for the fourth year in a row, USF Health doctors, students and faculty will tap another set of skills to help keep the clinic running smoothly. At the annual BANDaids for Bridge talent show and fundraiser on Jan. 9, doctors and students will dispense with white coats or jackets and stethoscopes to don dancing shoes, stilettos, ties and sequins – all to ensure that this beacon of care stays lit for struggling families.

“I think in medical school, there is a tendency to get tunnel vision,” second-year medical student Ajay Koti, a student operations coordinator at the clinic, says over paperwork before a large computer screen, showing the ropes to two first-year med students.

“But here you are part of a bigger process, something bigger than yourself,” Koti adds. “We’re talking about patients who without a free clinic would have no health care.”

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Jose Martinez waits patiently in a chair as Dr. Fred Slone, sitting across from him on a round, wheeled stool, pulls bottles and packets of his medications out of a large envelope.

“Oh, good, you’ve got the Omega 3,” says Dr. Slone, a faculty medical advisor to BRIDGE, as well as an assistant medical professor of medicine and medical director of the USF Health Center for Advanced Clinical Learning.

“Thank you for bringing in the medicines. That’s a big help.”

Over the next hour, Dr. Slone will carefully go over the half-dozen medications that Martinez takes as well as life-style changes and stressors as he charts the best treatment path – and affordable prescriptions – for Martinez, whose conditions include diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

The sheer amount of time and comprehensive care provided to each patient is both a welcome relief to community residents and a teaching tool on clinical care. Not only do patients visit with doctors and medical students, but when needed, a student social worker will help refer them to area services. Some are also seen by physical therapy students.

“I’m very happy here, how they attend to me,” Martinez says after medical students have finished recording his vital signs and Dr. Slone steps momentarily out of the examination room.

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Martinez, a 47-year-old construction worker, says he tried to get private health care insurance for himself, wife and their three children. But even on the new federal Health Insurance Marketplace, he couldn’t afford it.

“It’s so much,” he says, listing off his expenses for his household, including food, rent, clothes and utilities. He’s just trying to survive, he adds.

Back in the examination room, Dr. Slone gently chides him about some changes since his last recent visit.

“I put on some weight?” Martinez asks sheepishly in English, while a student interpreter is sitting at his side to help the native Spanish-speaker when needed. “That’s not good.”

“That’s not good,” Dr. Slone agrees in a friendly but concerned tone about the 10-pound weight gain. “That’s going to make the diabetes harder to control.”

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The vital signs and laboratory results aid Dr. Slone’s decisions and guidance, which include adding baby Aspirin to the regimen. He also explains how and when Martinez should check his blood sugar levels at home and call in the results to help Dr. Slone adjust his insulin treatments.

But it’s the time Dr. Slone takes to talk with Martinez that illustrates a big point students say they glean from their experience at the clinic: with personal clinical care, the aspiring doctors obtain more information from patients about how their socioeconomic circumstances interact with their health.

In their conversation, Martinez reveals he has developed a voracious appetite and he doesn’t know why. Also, his hours have been cut back at work.

Dr. Slone, using his own health conditions as examples throughout the appointment to empathize, prods Martinez to exercise more.

“Can you give me about 15 minutes a day walking?” Dr. Slone asks. “If you can promise me 15 minutes, I’ll do 15 minutes.”

Martinez smiles and nods. “I can promise,” he says.

Before they finish, Dr. Slone writes a referral for him to get an upper endoscopy through the USF’s GI Program – procedures made possible for BRIDGE patients by grant money from the Colon Cancer Alliance. The funds also help BRIDGE patients gain access to another greatly needed area of care: colonoscopies to screen for colon cancer.

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The patients who qualify for care at the BRIDGE clinic are uninsured residents from the University Area Community who earn up to 200 percent of the poverty line, says Michelle Rosario, a fourth-year medical student and a student director at the BRIDGE clinic.

When applying to medical school, Rosario sought out USF in part because of the BRIDGE free clinic.

“I knew I wanted to participate in that,” says Rosario, who started volunteering here first as an interpreter before working her way up through other positions like patient coordinator and finally to student director. “I just love helping others,” she adds. “It’s an amazing experience providing services to those who otherwise might not get the care they need.”

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In addition to receiving care and service referrals, eligible BRIDGE patients can obtain counseling and assistance to help shop for health care insurance on the federal Marketplace through the USF Navigator program. The assistance comes as part of a $5.38 million second-year Navigator grant – the largest in the country – that USF won this fall to help enroll eligible Floridians and small employers into the Marketplace.

The BRIDGE clinic is no stranger to broader university and health issues. For instance, graduate students throughout USF, including from the College of Arts and Sciences, have in the past anchored research projects at the clinic. Also, students in the College of Public Health work in conjunction with the Hillsborough County Health Department to provide free and confidential HIV testing and counseling at the clinic.

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“As an undergraduate, it’s almost impossible to get any hands-on experience,” Lauren Aziz, studying for her bachelor’s degree in public health, says in a clinic corridor between patient visits.

Working alongside her is Melina Santos, a public health graduate student and the student supervisor of the public health HIV program in the clinic. She agrees – not only did the clinic give her real-world experience early in her academic career, but it also helped lead to her current job at Tampa’s DACCO – the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office.

“I absolutely loved that I had that patient interaction,” Santos says, adding how much it means to her to provide HIV education to underserved populations, particularly Spanish-speakers.

“One of the most important things for me is that they feel comfortable talking about it,” Santos says.

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Down the corridor and around the corner, a treatment plan is unfolding. Third-year medical student Jared Gopman consults with attending physician Dr. Phuong D. Nguyen about a patient, while first-year medical student Seth Vanzant hovers nearby, observing. The tiered system is part of the clinic’s “conveyor belt” method of progressively increasing responsibilities for students under professional guidance. (The medical students wear short white jackets while Dr. Nguyen and the other physicians wear the doctor’s signature long, white coats.)

Gopman has already done an initial check-up and assessment of the patient in question – a man suffering from several ailments, including cancer. Now Dr. Nguyen is going to follow through to make the final call on his medications and determine his needed follow-up care. The man is eligible for disability insurance, but it hasn’t started yet, and he remains without insurance in the interim.

The three slip inside the examination room, and Dr. Nguyen takes the lead.

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“How long have you been on this regimen?” she asks, regarding his medications. A few moments later she tells him about another medication they would like him to try to help him with his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“I may have an ulcer, too, and I don’t know it,” the man says. Gopman takes the man’s chart from Dr. Nguyen and makes notes about setting up a GI endoscopy and also a colonoscopy.

“Trying to keep my costs down, stretching my money as much as I can to pay my bills,” the man says.

They discuss his jaw pain and some other needed tests and exams – with Gopman speaking loudly and sitting on a rolling stool close to the man, who is hard of hearing. Gopman writes everything down for him. All the while, he and Dr. Nguyen try to align care the man needs with the services he can get at the BRIDGE clinic or other low-cost area providers as well as reasonably priced medication.

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“Hopefully this will help you before disability kicks in, because we know you can’t afford all these medicines,” Gopman tells him.

At the end of the day, says Koti, the second-year operations coordinator, though members of the community receive free medical attention, the students are just as grateful to the patients for the education they get in return.

“That’s an incredible social gift,” Koti says. “It tremendously outweighs whatever we’re doing for them.”

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Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications