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Shade Tree Clinic move adds much-needed space

May 5, 2012

The Shade Tree Clinic’s success has been a study in the force of will of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine students.

But recently, it was the force of their muscles that moved the clinic — which provides free care to uninsured people living in East Nashville — to a new, larger facility located at 1223 Dickerson Road.

“It’s bigger and clean and will be what our patients deserve in terms of the quality of the space we are using to provide them care,” said Allison Ferreira, a second-year School of Medicine student and co-director of the student-run clinic.

Bigger is an understatement, as the new facility, one of United Neighborhood Health Services (UNHS) family clinics, gives the students access to up to 12 exam rooms in three separate wings as well as a break room, meeting room, spacious lobby and medication storage facility.

The former facility, a double-wide trailer at 222 Grace Street, featured just three exam rooms and hallways and spaces so narrow that students and faculty had nowhere to sit or stand.

“We could get 25 volunteers a night seeing 30 patients and we would be right on top of each other,” said Paula Marincola, a second-year medical student and co-director of the clinic. “Being in the trailer was a reminder this is a grass roots effort. This building kind of feels like a palace to us. It definitely changes things.”

When the UNHS clinic closes its doors after regular business hours, Shade Tree takes the space over on Tuesday nights and Saturdays. The hours and arrangement with UNHS remain the same as they were for the previous six years at the old facility.

“Six years ago Mary Bufwack, CEO of UNHS, invited Vanderbilt medical students to start Shade Tree operations in the Grace Street facility and has now allowed Shade Tree to move into a larger and updated facility,” said Robert Miller, M.D., associate professor of Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and co-medical director of the clinic.

“UNHS has never charged Shade Tree for the use of their facilities. Mary is committed to training providers who want to practice in underserved areas.”

The students emphasize that other neighborhood relationships will remain intact, including supporting a local football team, the partnership with the Salvation Army and maintaining a neighborhood vegetable garden, among others.

The move to the Dickerson Road facility was enhanced by a $100,000 grant from the Cal Turner Foundation, which has supported the clinic’s operations in the past. The grant will be used to purchase pharmaceutical dispensing equipment, equipment for specialty examination including ophthalmology and diagnostic ultrasound and electrocardiogram studies.

Michael Fowler, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, is co-medical director along with Miller. He has helped students learn to guide the care of diabetes patients, especially those who are Spanish-speaking.

“This clinic space will help our expanding Preventive Health Education (PHE) programs to serve patients better. Students are learning that not only are patients much more receptive to active involvement in improving their health, but the relationship with physicians improves with more trust. The individualized attention has motivated many of our patients to take control of their health,” Fowler said.

The concept for the clinic began with two first-year students six years ago. Today, nearly all first- and second-year medical students volunteer at the clinic. Volunteers from Vanderbilt University School of Nursing and neighboring pharmacy schools have joined in and students have secured funding for a paid social worker to staff all clinics.

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John Howser
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Phone: 615-322-4747

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