Students offer expertise, compassion in screenings for hepatitis

By Alex Branch

Idig Web
A group of UNT Health Science Center students is putting its interest in infectious diseases to work in charity clinics and among high-risk populations in North Texas.

Members of the Infectious Disease Interest Group student organization have tested at least 150 people for hepatitis B and C at a half dozen student-organized screening events.

The volunteer project includes follow-up care so students can help people who test positive — and there have been about a dozen so far — access treatment and resources for immunization.

“It’s a terrific learning opportunity for us as students that allows us to also make a difference in these people’s lives,” said Yohan Kim, a second-year Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine student who helped create the student organization in 2017.

Medical students started the group but it has grown to include pharmacy and physician assistant students, providing a useful experience with interprofessional, team-based care. Membership dues paid for some equipment like centrifuges and needles. Other equipment was donated.

The student organization’s Faculty Advisor, Janet Jowitt, RN, TCOM Assistant Professor, helped the students train to perform the screenings.

Sung Kang, a second-year medical student and a group co-founder, said some of the people she tested were scared of needles. But the most common reaction was confusion.

“A lot of them just want to know what exactly is hepatitis, how can I get it and what does it mean if I do have it?” Kang said. “Along with the screening, I feel like a lot of what we are providing is educational information that can help protect people and explain why they should be immunized.”

The follow-up care is unique, Kim said. At many volunteer opportunities, students perform health checks and never see the patient again. Blood drawn at the hepatitis screenings is sent for testing to the Center for Disease Detection and when results are ready, students return to the clinic or church to deliver them and refer patients to treatment, if needed.

Peggy Leitch, Executive Director of the Mercy Clinic, said the free screenings are beneficial to patients of the clinic, which offers free health care to uninsured adults in south Fort Worth. She said she was impressed with the students’ empathetic interactions with patients.

“The compassion that the students showed the people they were testing and educating was tremendous,” she said. “It offered a sense of dignity and self-worth to people in need.”

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