KCU students serve Kansas City’s houseless community

Feb 26, 2024
Share this:

On a frigid Saturday morning, equipped with a collapsible bucket for water, an array of ointments and bandages and new pairs of shoes and socks, KCU Student-Run Clinic volunteers hosted their second FreshStep clinic within a year for people experiencing homelessness in Kansas City.

Designed and implemented by members of KCU’s Student-Run Clinic, FreshStep serves the houseless community by offering free foot cleanings and exams along with the gift of new socks and shoes, plus snacks and juice. Medical students wash the feet of those who stop in, examine their feet and provide education explaining how taking care of feet can benefit the rest of the body.

"They had me at shoes,” said Carl, a FreshStep client. When asked what he thought about the foot clinic he continued, “Shoes are important. It’s nice to have them fit. Sometimes I wear shoes that are too loose or don’t fit. I think it is a nice gesture to be given shoes that fit.”

Access to health care is only one of several social determinants of health that the unhoused and underserved population struggle with, in addition to issues such as food insecurity and lack of mental health support. Hands-on patient experience in a clinical setting helps both the patient and the student doctor. The patient receives personal attention and a needed examination while the student doctor gains experience practicing clinical and communication skills.

Nathan Ng, second-year student doctor and executive director of the Student-Run Clinic shared, “Not only is it important to be involved in the community, but this hands-on experience also helps us develop some of the soft skills for patient interaction we cannot get in the classroom. There is something about washing someone's feet that builds a connection on a different level very quickly.”

It is through these one-to-one doctor-patient interactions that solid communication skills are cultivated. The KCU Student-Run Clinics have a governing board and more than forty volunteers. “These are completely student-driven activities. The students had the idea for the foot clinic and have taken it from concept to reality. It was so well received the students were eager to offer another foot clinic as soon as schedules would permit,” said Ray Newman, MD, faculty sponsor.

“We hope to help make their day a little better. We want them to feel welcome and not judged, and having someone for the guests to talk to about their challenges is an added benefit to these clinics. Working with them is a joy for us,” said second- year Student Doctor, Kazi Syed.

Sara, a 24-year-old FreshStep patient, shared that she learned of the clinic through the library. She was quick to offer, “Everyone is so open here, I am amazed at how I don’t feel judged in any way. A lot of us in the homeless community really feel judged – but not here.”

Building on KCU’s existing partnership with KC CARE Health Center, FreshStep was publicized by organizations closest to the underserved populations to reach as many people as possible. The clinic aligns with a new initiative the University recently announced to continue the mission of improving the well-being of the communities we serve.

“KCU has long been committed to addressing nonmedical factors that influence health outcomes and recently announced plans for the Center for Population Health and Equity (CPHE). The CPHE will study the factors that prevent underserved populations from attaining their full health potential,” stated Dr. Catherine Satterwhite, executive director of the Center for Population Health and Equity.

As for the future of FreshStep? Student volunteers plan to expand the program and continue serving the unhoused, meeting them where they are to offer much-needed care and compassion.

Share this: