Schreyer Scholars looking to provide care for underserved communities

Jeff Rice
December 07, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. —What began as a weekend trip to West Virginia has become a passion project for a group of Penn State students, and people around the country are taking notice.

The Penn State chapter of Remote Area Medical (RAM) formed in the spring semester of 2018 and has been working with the RAM offices in Rockford, Tennessee, to establish an annual clinic in Pennsylvania.

Remote Area Medical runs free mobile medical, dental and eye care clinics in impoverished and underserved communities throughout the United States and elsewhere. The organization can run three clinics simultaneously in three different locations in any one weekend, said clinic manager Vicki Gregg, provided the community host group can generate enough local support.

“One of the hindrances that can happen is that we may have one person that reaches out to us wanting to do a clinic, but getting the community involvement can be daunting,” Gregg said. “The more people that we can connect together helps to bring a clinic to that community.”

In October 2017, a group of seven Schreyer Honors Scholars attended a RAM clinic in Charleston, West Virginia. After assisting in an effort that saw nearly 500 patients, the students returned home and set up their own chapter, which meets every other week and includes a nine-member executive board that meets every Sunday. Currently, there are only two other RAM chapters at American universities – the University of Tennessee and the University of Central Florida.

Setting up care in the Commonwealth

During the past year, in addition to sending contingents to RAM clinics in Gloucester, Virginia, and Charleston, the Penn State chapter has been working to find potential locations in Pennsylvania for a June 2019 clinic. The Penn State Fayette campus is the most likely host, and the chapter has been in talks with the Susquehanna School District about a 2020 clinic.

The group also has been working to raise funds for costs of the clinic, including lodging and meals for volunteers and travel expenses, through the Let’s Grow State campaign.

The students have written more than 30 letters to state representatives across the Commonwealth and also paid visits to a few, petitioning them to pass a bill that will allow physicians without Pennsylvania licenses to volunteer in the state, as the state of Ohio did in 2013.

Even if that legislation is not passed in time for the first clinic next summer, chapter vice president Kyle McIlroy is confident the chapter will be able to find enough volunteers via the Penn State College of Medicine or local friends or family members who practice medicine.

“People at Penn State love giving their time to things that matter, and the volunteering aspect of undergraduate life,” said McIlroy, a Schreyer Scholar double-majoring in bioengineering and biomedical engineering. “I think we could have a completely Penn State-supported thing.”

The members of the Penn State RAM chapter have been encouraged by the response they have seen from the University community and believe it has helped fill a need for those interested in both medicine and giving back to their communities.

“A lot of times when you think medical service, you think, overseas,” said Schreyer Scholar and mathematics major Elena Cadenas, who is the web designer and social media coordinator for the chapter. “This a direct contribution to our society, helping the community become stronger, making sure everyone is healthy.”

Setting an example

The Penn State group is already influencing others. Alexandre Bourcier, the president of the chapter, has been contacted through social media by students from Yale University and the University of Minnesota who are interested in setting up chapter or clinics in their own neighborhoods and wanted to learn more.

“It’s great for us to travel to all the RAM clinics and try to set up a PA clinic, but if multiple major schools can do this in their own states, we could cover most underserved areas in the U.S.,” said Bourcier, a Schreyer Scholar and biology major originally from France. “Our job is not only to take care of Pennsylvania, but also to inspire other schools and other states.” 

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses. They represent the top 2 percent of students at Penn State who excel academically and lead on campus.

Last Updated December 07, 2018