October 10, 2008

Faculty volunteers key to student-run clinic’s success

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Robert Miller, M.D., talks with School of Medicine student Meredith Albin at the Shade Tree Family Clinic. Miller is the clinic’s medical director; Albin, its co-executive director. (photo by Dana Thomas)

Faculty volunteers key to student-run clinic’s success

For three years, the Shade Tree Family Clinic, the student-run free health clinic in east Nashville, has provided an irreplaceable experience for nearly every Vanderbilt first- and second-year medical student.

But what most people don't know is that behind this dedicated team of students is a support system of more than 150 Vanderbilt School of Medicine faculty members — many of whom put aside their own schedules to spend time volunteering at the clinic.

Second-year student Meredith Albin, co-executive director of Shade Tree, describes the faculty volunteers as approachable, flexible and dedicated.

“Given that we have limited monetary resources, we rely on our volunteers' time and energy,” said Albin.

“What makes a faculty member phenomenal is a willingness to help out. It doesn't take any special skills, just an interest in working with the students and a commitment to doing what it takes to meet the needs of our patients.”

Robert Miller, M.D., medical director of the clinic, said, “Shade Tree has changed the lives of many students, but I also believe that it has changed the outlook and attitudes of many attending physicians.”

Among those who volunteer regularly is Lewis Lefkowitz, M.D., professor of Preventive Medicine, Emeritus, who has been working and teaching in community settings since 1965.

“I enjoy working side by side with motivated, curious and intelligent students who are providing a substantial service while they learn,” he said.

Neerav Desai, M.D., assistant professor of Adolescent Medicine, also volunteers at the clinic on a regular basis.

“The collaboration of medical students, social workers, dental students and faculty is really the cornerstone for providing excellent care to our patient community,” said Desai. “Volunteering at Shade Tree reminds me of the idealism and ingenuity of young minds that are goal oriented. I am amazed each time I go in there.”

Although faculty volunteers are quick to put the students in the spotlight, clinic co-executive director Alon Peltz said, “Without the faculty's hard work, dedication and commitment, Shade Tree would not be a reality.”

Albin agreed.

“It has been incredibly inspirational to be a student at an institution that does not feel I'm being overly idealistic in wanting to provide services to the medically underserved, but rather assists me in trying to do so,” she said.

Faculty interested in volunteering at the Shade Tree Family Clinic can go to www.shadetreeclinic.org, or e-mail Miller at robert.miller@vanderbilt.edu for more information.