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CRS Scholar Takes Free Medical Care to Nashville Neighborhood

By Meredith Carr
July 2010

Katie Cox Johnson, M.D., MD ‘07, is a Knoxville, Tenn., native who did her pre-med work at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.

“When it came time to go to med school, I thought I was ready to get out of Tennessee,” she muses, “But I really liked what I saw at Vanderbilt, and the Canby Robinson Society scholarship offered such a fantastic opportunity.”

Now, Johnson, an ER physician, is in her third year of residency at Vanderbilt School of Medicine. And in the intervening years, she’s been busy – not only at school, but in the Nashville community.

During her first year of medical school, she and another first-year student, Kristina Collins, were seeking a way to get clinical experience, an opportunity that doesn’t usually present itself until the third or fourth year of medical school.

“Some of the other schools where we had interviewed had student-run free clinics where medical students could volunteer their time. We checked around, and discovered that Vanderbilt didn’t have one.” Thus the idea for Shade Tree Clinic was born.

The two presented their idea of a student-run clinic to Steven Gabbe, M.D., then dean of the School of Medicine, and other faculty, who were very supportive. But the two young women had to really do their homework. They formed a committee and got to work.

“It was like starting a business,” says Johnson. “We had to conduct a needs assessment and outline every detail. We knew we wanted a location that served an area in need of clinical services and that patients could walk to,” she explains.

“The United Neighborhood Health Services (UNHS) location was perfect because there was already a clinic there. We didn’t have to build out the space – we just had to provide the medical care on the two days the clinic was normally closed. And the UNHS director, Mary Beth White, was so supportive.”

Today at Shade Tree Clinic, VUSM students, under the supervision of faculty member Robert Miller, M.D., and other attending physicians, provide urgent and chronic walk-in care for the area’s uninsured patients. The clinic also provides health education and patient referrals and acts as a bridge between the medically underserved community and other components of the region’s health care system.

Even with her grueling ER schedule Johnson has remained on the advisory board and found time to meet and marry her husband, Josh.

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