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Med students learn care-giving at United Methodist clinic

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A UMNS photo by Allysa Adams

Medical student Peter Easter examines Aaron Watkins at the UMOM New Day Center in Phoenix.
March 8, 2006

By Allysa Adams*

PHOENIX (UMNS) — Some things you just can’t learn from a book. That’s something second-year medical student Peter Easter realizes every time he comes to work at the UMOM New Day Center medical clinic.

Tonight, Easter struggles to keep 15-month-old Aaron Watkins happy while trying to get a peak into the child’s ears. Aaron is having none of it, wailing and struggling in his mom’s arms.

“Peds is probably some of the most challenging patients you get in medicine,” Easter says. “They’re always moving around, and they don’t sit still. It’s a real test of your clinical skills.”

Easter and nine other medical students from Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine regularly test those skills at the free clinic here. It’s a rare opportunity for the medical students to put down the books and start putting what they are learning into practice.

“The first two years of medical school are strictly book work,” Easter says. “It’s really nice to get out and see what all the work you are doing (is) for.”

A nonprofit organization, the United Methodist Outreach Ministries New Day Center is part of the denomination’s Desert Southwest Annual (regional) Conference. It has 70 staff members and hundreds of volunteers, and is funded largely through charitable contributions and government money.

Last year, the center provided shelter to 350 families and served more than 8,000 people with its food pantry. The center also provides job training, substance abuse treatment and day care. And once a month, people get free medical care at the student-run clinic.

‘Crash course in people’

As the patients file in with runny noses, coughs and various flu symptoms, it’s clear this is a situation where the patient and doctors help each other.

“They realize we’re students so they put up with us,” Easter says.

”It shows me what community health nursing is all about,” says Tricia Henry, a nursing student at Arizona State University.

This night, she is helping Karen Eynon, the medical coordinator at the center, with health assessments for newly arriving families. In an exam room, Eynon has 4-month-old Olivia Anderson hold a rattle, and she watches to see if the child’s eyes follow her as she moves. Nearby, Olivia’s mom, a recovering heroin addict, answers Tricia’s questions about her health history.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Allysa Adams

At the clinic, medical students learn to work with uncooperative patients and concerned parents.

“The first time I came here I was really nervous,” Henry admits. “I had never done anything like this in my experience, and it was hard to ask people questions.”

It’s not a population most medical students have ever encountered, and Eynon hopes the students get an appreciation for the whole person and not just the patient’s deficits.

“Everybody has their barriers and obstacles to being healthy,” Eynon says, “and this population has a lot of barriers. So it’s a crash course in people and how they are affected by their overall lifestyle.”

After Easter gives Dr. Markham McHenry the rundown on Aaron, both of them go back into the exam room to give the little boy the once-over again. McHenry, a licensed family physician, volunteers his time to oversee the students at the clinic.

Easter watches in appreciation as McHenry checks Aaron’s ears, heart and lungs while the now-calm little boy smiles and laughs at the more experienced doctor. McHenry employs some veteran’s tricks: a few trills with his voice and a cell phone to play with.

“It’s an art,” Easter says in awe. “It’s an art.”

*Adams is a freelance writer and producer in Phoenix.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or


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