Over the weekend of Sept. 9-10, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus community members were out in full force aiding people to get needed medical care.
Remote Area Medical (RAM), a major nonprofit provider of pop-up clinics delivering free dental, vision and medical care to those in need, was in East Ridge holding a two-day clinic at the Camp Jordan Arena.
Volunteers around the region offered services, including approximately 75 students, staff and faculty from the UTC Social Work, Music Therapy, Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, Master of Public Health and Nurse Practitioner programs and the UTC RAM Chapter student organization.
“Remote Area Medical Clinic is an international agency that provides pop-up clinics in areas across the country serving underserved individuals. They don’t ask any questions: your citizenship status, your background, your ability to pay, it’s at no charge,” said Social Work Associate Lecturer and Clinical Instructor Mary Andrews—who coordinated UTC’s efforts for this year’s RAM clinic.
The Social Work program has had a resource booth at each of the last three Chattanooga RAM clinics (also in 2019 and 2021), providing extensive services to patients and staff.
“I think this is a fabulous opportunity for UTC and the students to make an impact and engage in the community. I also think it’s a wonderful immersion opportunity because every student that goes walks away like, ‘I just couldn’t imagine this,’” Andrews said. “When you see the people and their faces and realize that for some of them, it’s the only health care they ever get … they’ll drive a couple hundred miles just to have teeth pulled or receive medical care.”
Among the services available at the RAM clinic were dental cleanings, dental fillings, dental extractions, dental X-rays, eye exams, eye health exams, eyeglass prescriptions, eyeglasses made on-site, women’s health exams and general medical exams.
RAM Media Relations Coordinator Chris Cannon works around 24 clinics a year nationwide and said patients started lining up at 3 p.m. Friday in the Camp Jordan Arena parking lot—spending the night in their cars. The clinic doors opened at 6 a.m. Saturday.
“We reached capacity today in just about every service,” he said.
The clinic had 40 dental chairs, two vision lanes, five medical bays, one women’s health bay and more than 250 volunteers.
“We’re grateful for our partners in the community and neighbors helping neighbors,” Cannon said. “It’s all volunteers here, so we’re glad to have as many as we have.”
Over the two days, he said the clinic served 398 individuals receiving more than $290,000 worth of free care.
More than two dozen UTC Social Work students were at Camp Jordan on Saturday, including Shelagh Watkins—a graduate assistant pursuing a Master of Social Work degree. The Knoxville, Tennessee, native received a bachelor’s degree in social work from UTC in May.
“I had an awesome internship at Children’s Hospital, getting to provide different types of case management skills and educating parents and the pediatric ICU about different resources,” Watkins said, “so coming here and volunteering at RAM was a cool connection. It’s educating different community members about different resources they can get so that they can take care of themselves and get the resources they need to stay healthy.
“I want to be a medical social worker. Talking to people and understanding what they find important and what kind of care they need is really important to my future career.”
Junior Kaitlyn Acuna, majoring in anthropology and pre-med, is president of UTC’s student RAM chapter. She said more than 20 group members volunteered on Saturday, getting to the facility at 5 a.m., “and we’ll be here until the end.”
“I am very passionate about community giving back,” said Acuna, an Austin, Texas, transplant who graduated from Collegiate High at Chattanooga State Community College. “I think it is extremely important for everyone to have access to quality health care.
“RAM provides that and makes sure that they can get their teeth pulled or get fillings, get a new prescription or just any other general medical service that they need without having to stress about paying for it.”
Acuna, who helped check in patients as they entered the facility, said she was interested in emergency room medicine—but was also thinking about rural medicine “so that I can provide care to low-income people or people that don’t have access to quality medical care.”
Two of Acuna’s leadership team members, treasurer Kendal Robinson and secretary and social media chair Jaden Webster, assisted the dental area. Both had previous RAM volunteer experience.
Robinson, a senior pre-dental student from Memphis, estimated she saw 70 patients on Saturday before 2 p.m.
“I’ve learned from a lot of patients that have come in that they haven’t been to the dentist an eye doctor in years, so being able to help them definitely feels good,” Robinson said.
Webster, a senior psychology major with a concentration in health care, plans to go to physician assistant school and work in women’s health.
“This is my second RAM clinic and it’s very important for me because I grew up in a very low-income community. It just makes my heart warm to volunteer and work in this kind of setting and give back,” said the native of Columbia, Tennessee. “I want to work in an underserved community to be able to give back to marginalized communities. It means a lot to me to be able to give back to those who are less fortunate.”
Sophomore Meera Patel, a pre-health major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, spent much of her day escorting patients from station to station.
The clinic gave her the opportunity to converse with members of the medical community.
“I was able to talk to some of the dentists and ask them questions about how they entered the field,” she said. “I wasn’t even thinking about that before, but now I am.”
Master of Public Health Program Manager Emma Sampson said a dozen members of that program worked different shifts at the clinic.
UC Foundation Professor of Spanish Lynn Purkey, head of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, volunteered to serve as a translator—as did lecturer Hilary Browder and several MCLL students.
“We’ve been talking to people whose first language isn’t English and helping them with their medical appointments,” Purkey said. “It’s been a really good experience; everybody’s been very kind and thankful for all the help we’ve given them.
“I’m thinking maybe we need to have a medical Spanish course at UTC.”
Said Browder, “I have a certification in medical interpreting, but I haven’t done anything like this where there’s such a variety of jobs. It’s always interesting to see all the people in the community and be able to help someone that needs it.”
The Music Therapy program, making its first visit to a RAM clinic, was represented by Director Katherine Goforth Elverd, Clinical Coordinator Chrissy Watson and students Rose Carroll, Riley Baker, Kori Pilgrim and Abby Cunningham.
“In all honesty, we didn’t know what to expect,” Watson said, “and as we’ve been here, we’ve seen lots of different areas where we can hopefully make an impact. We plan to be involved in this as the years go on.
“The students have been able to play in the waiting areas and normalize the environment. Maybe we can have a positive impact on decreasing anxiety—if there is any of that—and elevate the mood.”
As the students played music, Watson said she noticed workers and patients in the dental and waiting areas “just kind of bopping and moving. It’s fun to make an impact and it’s fun to witness that response.”
Founded in 1985, RAM has treated more than 900,000 individuals and delivered more than $189.5 million worth of free health care services.