UW News

June 15, 2021

Video: Mobile health van student volunteers collaborate in service to the community

UW News

This summer, a University of Washington mobile health outreach van will hit the road, bringing some basic health care services to people without housing who might have a hard time getting to a doctor’s office.

The new van had an official ribbon cutting April 30 to celebrate the project, several years in the making, coming to fruition. 

Student volunteer Nina Cook shows off features of the new mobile health outreach van.

Student volunteer Nina Cook shows off features of the new mobile health outreach van.Kiyomi Taguchi / UW News

The van is outfitted like a tiny clinic. It has a privacy curtain and examination table, a sink with warm water, blood pressure cuff, and shelves of wound care supplies, hand sanitizer, wipes and snacks. It has a solar panel for supplemental electricity and an awning for extra protection from the elements. Most importantly, it’s on wheels, fulfilling a mission of meeting people where they are to address their health care needs.

Various student outreach groups will use the van several times a month, coordinated by health sciences student volunteers like Nina Cook, a graduate student in the School of Social Work. On a warm May evening, she was part of a volunteer team assembled by University District Street Medicine in a U-District parking lot; among them, a medical student, a nursing student, and a “preceptor” — in this case, a licensed nurse with years of experience to offer guidance.

As people approached the van, students explained what services they could offer, from examining a skin condition to checking blood pressure. Referrals were given for medical services that couldn’t be performed on the spot, and volunteers spoke with people about issues and challenges of staying healthy while living on the street. Visitors could select hygiene supplies, water and snacks to take with them. 

Student volunteers look at medical supplies inside a van.

Interprofessional teams work to address patients’ health care issues.Kiyomi Taguchi / UW News

Actually obtaining the van is the culmination of years of work by an interdisciplinary group of students, faculty and staff from across the UW’s health sciences units. The project is part of a push to offer students real-life experience serving a community that needs help. 

A second aim is to foster a collaborative approach to health care with students from various health science disciplines. Outreach teams bring together students from nursing, public health, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, physical therapy and social work. Volunteers learn with, from and about each other, working side by side as they talk with patients — much in the way they will work together in their future careers.

“When working on interprofessional teams in community settings, students are able to put teamwork into practice in a way that’s unique and sometimes even unparalleled even during clinical rotations,” said Tracy Brazg, director of the UW Health Sciences Interprofessional Education Initiative

Cook said working with students from other disciplines helped her feel she was able to look more broadly at patients’ needs. “It’s really been a highlight for me, being able to dip my toe into this interprofessional world,” she said.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to see what we can do in the future,” said Leonora Clarke, UW School of Medicine Service Learning program manager and a key organizer of the van project. She hopes they will someday be able to provide more robust clinical care, like vaccinations.

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