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IU medical students mobilize to provide care on west side of Indianapolis

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The 15th Annual Westside Family Health Fair, hosted by the IU School of Medicine’s Internal Medicine Student Interest Group in conjunction with Wishard Health Services and the IU School of Dentistry, will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the New Wishard Westside Health Center, 2732 W. Michigan St. The event is one of the largest annual student-organized events at the IU School of Medicine, with about 100 medical students participating.

“They’re our neighbors, just across the river from the medical school campus, and it’s our privilege to work with this community,” said Charles Goodwin, an M.D./Ph.D. student at the IU School of Medicine and chair of the Westside Family Health Fair Committee for the Internal Medicine Student Interest Group. “This is a very strong community where people help take care of each other, but it’s also a community plagued by poverty and its associated barriers to health care. It’s important to us as future health care providers to help break down some of these barriers.”

Established in 1997, when it took place inside a doublewide trailer, the fair has come a long way toward having a positive impact on the health and health education of individuals on the west side of Indianapolis. Services provided will include free adult flu shots, HIV testing, blood pressure screenings, blood sugar screenings and basic dental and vision care.

“When we open our doors, I think it makes the community feel valued,” said Palmer MacKie, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine at the IU School of Medicine and faculty advisor to the Internal Medicine Student Interest Group. “This fair is an annual reminder that Wishard, the School of Dentistry, the IU School of Medicine and their students all appreciate the community for supporting us. The screenings and education are offered to some who otherwise may not have access.”

In addition to free health screenings, fair visitors will gain healthy living tips on topics such as mental health, weight loss and exercise, sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence and paying for health care. Community members are also encouraged to bring their children to learn about bicycle helmets and fire safety.   

Anyone diagnosed with early-onset diseases such as diabetes will also have the opportunity to scheduled follow-ups exams to review their condition.

The ultimate goal is to empower participants to become better integrated into the formal health care system through programs such as Wishard Advantage, a managed-care program that provides medical care to low-income and uninsured residents of Indianapolis, Goodwin said, noting that the fair is the only access to basic health care for many in the westside community.

“I, and my fellow medical students, chose to study medicine because we wanted to help people, and it’s particularly rewarding to help those who need it most,” he said. “Most medical students have been very fortunate in our lives; it’s very gratifying to try to give back to our community and help those who have not been so fortunate.”

Dr. MacKie added that the time and effort that medical students dedicate to serving this community reveals true character – as well as a dedication to tackling a major problem for underserved communities.

“Medical students represent the future of our health institutions,” he said. “These young student doctors are eager to seek out clinical opportunities in the community – to find the chance to speak to and touch people in ways that draw on the teaching and training they’ve been given.”