Molly K. Smith, MD,
HOPES FREE CLINIC,
EASTERN VIRGINIA MEDICAL SCHOOL
Many patients who turn to the HOPES (Health Outreach Partnership of EVMS Students) free clinic in Norfolk have nowhere else to go for medical care.
Demand is high: the current waitlist for primary care appointments at the student-run clinic is more than 200 patients long and stretches for eight months. It includes recent immigrants and asylum seekers, along with uninsured or underinsured residents of Hampton Roads.
“These are wonderful people who often are quite desperate for help,” says Dr. Molly Smith, a dermatologist and clinic volunteer. “We see some pretty progressed diseases, from uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension to patients I treat with severe psoriasis, eczema and skin cancer.”
Founded in 2011, HOPES has a unique model that provides long-term primary and specialty care services to adult patients and a learning opportunity for medical students.
Students partner with volunteer attending physicians and residents to deliver care. They are responsible for scheduling appointments, checking in patients, doing preliminary assessments and physical exams, presenting cases to an overseeing provider, notating symptoms and coordinating treatment and follow-up plans.
“A lot of them are first- or second-year students, so this gets them out of the classroom and participating in clinical care and patient interactions much sooner,” Dr. Smith notes. “They also gain exposure to different specialties early on. They do a great job.”
Located at the Norfolk Department of Public Health building, HOPES was the first student-run free clinic in Virginia.
HOPES has served more than 2,000 patients to date across primary care, mental health, orthopedics, ophthalmology, dermatology, ENT, gynecology, physical therapy and osteopathic manipulation therapy. Team members also help create goals for symptom management during end-of-life care.
Following rapid growth over the past year, HOPES sees an average of 60 patients a month at its English- and Spanish-speaking clinics. Spanish is the first language for about half of the patients.
HOPES relies on earmarked donations to EVMS to cover supplies and equipment. The clinic can provide basic at-home supplies such as over-the-counter medications, glucose monitors, orthopedic braces and hot and cold packs.
Student managers desperately need volunteer attending physicians who can commit to at least two shifts a year. Benefits for community faculty include liability coverage, Continuing Medical Education credits and access to EVMS library resources.
Even better is the reward of helping patients in need – many of whom likely would have landed in an emergency room for treatment – and watching young doctors-to-be gain skills and confidence, according to Dr. Smith.
“The students take such pride in taking good care of patients and helping them feel comfortable and relaxed,” she relates. “In addition to knowing you’re providing a really valuable service, it’s just a lot of fun.”
During dermatology clinics at HOPES, providers can biopsy suspected skin cancers. If follow-up care is necessary, Dr. Smith will refer patients to EVMS Dermatology or Pariser Dermatology’s low-cost clinic for indigent or uninsured patients.
As HOPES continues to grow, Dr. Smith encourages her local physician colleagues to get involved. “It’s always important to remove barriers to care,” she says. “We all benefit from a healthier community.”
For more information, visit evms.edu/education/resources/community-engaged_learning/hopes/. To volunteer, email Chrisney Pettit, HOPES’ office manager, at PettitCA@evms.edu. To make an earmarked donation to EVMS, go to evms.edu/giving.