TCOM students provide free care in West Texas

ROME team at SundownBuoyed by the support of Wellpoint – formerly known as Amerigroup – 27 medical students from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth spent three days in the Panhandle of Texas providing free health care clinics in rural, underserved communities.

This latest medical mission trip, led by TCOM’s director of rural medical education, Dr. Maria Crompton, and research assistant director, Ann Smith, saw TCOM students provide health care to 38 patients. The group visited two schools during their trip – Sundown High School and Morton Elementary School – and Antelope Activity Center.

“Even though this is our ninth Texas medical mission trip, it was our first venture to the Panhandle. The terrain was a bit flatter and much windier, but the folks we encountered were encouraging, supportive and incredibly grateful for our presence,” Smith said.

On the first day of the trip, the group held a clinic at Sundown High School. This clinic was a homecoming event for TCOM student Jade Pool. She graduated from Sundown – a town with a population of only 1265 – five years ago and vowed to return to serve the community one day. The second day, they headed to Morton Elementary School for their first attempt at non-traditional clinic hours – seeing patients from 1 to 5 p.m. instead of all day.

ROME team at MortonThe last clinic allowed the medical students to work with the elementary school children at the Antelope Activity Center in Whiteface. With donations from SaferCare Texas and guidance from Dr. Leslie Allsopp, assistant professor at TCOM, the medical students spent the morning teaching the students the proper way to brush their teeth and other healthy habits to master. The afternoon clinic brought faculty and staff from the schools as well as residents returning from work in the oil fields.

“In the realm of health care, there is no substitute for on-the-job experience,” Pool said. “My journeys to rural communities in West Texas to provide care have illuminated a deeper truth: real education begins with human connection. Serving communities in need revealed the stark health care disparities faced by rural residents.”

The medical mission trip was not only a first-time experience for ROME’s Class of 2027, but a final service opportunity for the Class of 2024. Diana Garcia-Garcia, a TCOM fourth-year student serving rotations in the Midland area, joined the group. As a Primary Care Pathway Program student, Garcia-Garcia has participated in four medical mission trips. She and other Year 3 and Year 4 medical students served as teaching assistants, utilizing downtime as skills training sessions.

Garcia-Garcia – the inaugural recipient of the HSC-Amerigroup Rural Medicine Scholarship – was able to meet Wellpoint’s director of medicaid plan marketing, Emie Young, while they were in the Panhandle.

 “I cannot express how proud I am of the student leaders, Jade Pool, Jonathan Markgraf, and Zahra Ansari who seamlessly took Jade’s vision and made it a reality,” Crompton said. “With administrative support from TCOM’s Office of Rural Medical Education, logistical sustenance from the Texas Rural Health Association Chapter at HSC, and funding from Wellpoint, these students planned every detail of the trip – budget, lodging, travel, recruitment, pre-trip training, meals, and even t-shirts, while they maintained med school course load.”

“The statistics and patient numbers, while noteworthy, cannot convey the profound human connections formed during these medical missions,” Pool said. “Every patient encounter allows us medical students to practice our skills of listening, empathy, and, of course, clinical practice while also reinforcing the critical importance of accessible health care. The transformative impact of providing care where care is most needed is a lesson no classroom can replicate. Thank you to all who made my passion a successful reality.”

The Office of Rural Medical Education and TRHA have already begun planning and fundraising for medical mission trips planned for spring break and early July. For more information, contact rome@unthsc.edu.

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