Athens Students Provide Free Physicals for Schoolchildren
On a cold February night in Athens, the halls are buzzing with activity at W.R. Coile Middle School. Several hours have passed since school let out at 3:45 p.m., but important work is going on in these halls. A sign on the wall reads: “Free physicals, 2/4; Soccer tryouts, 2/5.”
A Ton of Effort
To night is Feb. 4, and students and faculty from the Georgia Regents University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership are
busy setting up stations for height and weight checks, blood pressure monitoring, vision screenings, and more for the free physicals they will soon provide.
Soon, more students will be here, but they’ll be younger. The stations will be busy with Coile students who’ve worked hard to be academically eligible to play spring sports.
Students like 13-year-old Kanesha Luke, who wants to run track but doesn’t have a “regular doctor,” according to her mother Cassandra.
“Students here put in a ton of effort to get their grades up so they can play sports, and then they often can’t get a sports physical because they aren’t insured,” says Dr. Suzanne Lester, Assistant Professor and Family Medicine Site Clerkship Director for the Medical Partnership.
So four years ago, Lester and her neighbor Kelli Bivins, an English for Speakers of a Second Language teacher at Coile, had an idea.
The partnership had just enrolled its first medical students. They’d be busy in the classroom and in their textbooks for the first two years of medical school, but something like offering free sports physicals to kids who couldn’t otherwise get them would give them a chance to interact with patients.
Overcoming a Hurdle
It was a win-win for the MCG students and the students at Coile. “Students here have so many barriers,” Bivins says. “I just thought this was a way to overcome one hurdle for our students.”
“Similar work had been going on prior to the medical partnership opening,” Lester says. Dr. Farris Johnson, an Athens Family Medicine physician, had been chipping away at the problem slowly and mostly solo. “Involving partnership students and faculty was a chance to expand that.”
Being uninsured or underinsured is not uncommon at Coile, where most students are minority, socioeconomically challenged, and at high risk of not completing high school. Of the more than 700 students at Coile, 20 percent come from a home where English is not the native language, and 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch.
The first time the MCG students showed up to offer free physicals, they saw more than 50 students in one night. Word has also gotten out to other schools in Athens-Clarke County.
The project has had benefits for medical students, too, Lester says. “Service learning is important. This gives them hands-on experience and motivates them to have a sense of community.”
Envisioning the Future
And for some students – a chance to keep their perspective.
“This helps keep me sane when I’m studying so much,” says Aaron Purser, a second-year student and one of the coordinators of tonight’s activities. “I played sports in high school – football, basketball, and tennis – and had to have a physical, of course. It was never a question as to whether I would be able to. I can’t imagine having not been able to do that. I want to be able to make a difference for these kids and inspire them.”
Inspiration is just what happens, Bivins says.
“Besides getting the physical and being able to play sports, this is also an opportunity for our students to see a group of diverse medical students and hopefully see themselves in some of them – to see that they have opportunities and they can become doctors one day.”