Once a week, the doctor (in training) is in

The words "free" and "health care" aren't often seen together these days, but a new student-run clinic in Duluth offers just that to uninsured and low-income patients.

Photo: UMD's Weekly Clinic at CHUM
Second-year medical student Nicholas Vidor (center) and third-year pharmacy student Megan Clairmont take the blood pressure of a patient as part of UMD's weekly clinic at the CHUM drop-in center in downtown Duluth. (Derek Montgomery /

The words "free" and "health care" aren't often seen together these days, but a new student-run clinic in Duluth offers just that to uninsured and low-income patients.

Since October, the University of Minnesota Medical School in Duluth and UMD's College of Pharmacy have run a clinic out of the Churches United in Ministry drop-in center downtown. From 3-5 p.m. every Tuesday, medical and pharmacy students, supervised by licensed doctors and pharmacists, diagnose and help treat things like bronchitis, hypertension and asthma.

"We act as a triage to the higher health-care facilities in town," said Nicholas Vidor, a second-year medical student.

The clinic survives on donations from various university groups and from Maurices Corp. Duluth's Pasek Pharmacy provides free generic medications. The students from both disciplines work together with patients, and they hope to someday add physical and occupational therapy services from students at the College of St. Scholastica.

Medical students consult with doctors on patient histories, assessments and physical exams, and pharmacy students discuss medications with patients and give their suggestions for dosages when they are needed, which licensed pharmacists approve.


"We learn so much in the classroom but we don't see many patients," said Megan Clairmont, a third-year pharmacy student. "This is a great way to use what we learn in real-life situations. ... When I go home I [have] at least one thing I don't know and I look it up. It sticks with you."

Medical students don't act as primary-care physicians, but deal with acute care working in teams. They create their own charts and care plans and visit with potential patients out in the main room of the center, developing relationships. They've dealt with mental health issues, wound care, respiratory problems, cuts, sprains and pregnancy. They work with a wide network of area agencies which they refer patients to, and will send patients to emergency rooms if they must. The clinic provides patients free bus passes to other appointments, and a student patient advocate to sit in on exams and help patients with forms and questions.

Medical students work in the community throughout their studies, said Dr. Ray Christensen, associate dean of rural health at UMD. When first- and second-year medical students get to work with patients in a regular clinic setting, it helps them preserve what they learn in classrooms.

"If you get a chance to use that knowledge it's going to be better retained, probably for life," he said.

CHUM was chosen because of the health-care need for the population it serves, generally homeless or low-income.

"The students were really passionate about trying to be in a location that would serve the patients the best," said Dr. Ruth Westra, chairwoman of the Department of Family Medicine at the Duluth medical school.

Students converted an efficiency apartment into the clinic, soliciting supplies and furnishings. They feel a sense of pride from running the clinic -- three years in the making -- and working with its 45 or so regular patients.

"When you are down here at the clinic, you are essentially the acting physician," Vidor said. "Maybe the only time they have seen a doctor is when they go to an ER. Patient education is important."

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