Auburn University students in health-related fields will soon be able to take their skills into the community with the Mobile Clinic — a free health clinic providing services out of a bus.
Local design group Mobile Studio is working to have the bus renovated and ready to roll by fall. It will first travel to the Carver and Jeter neighborhoods in Opelika, which project manager Daniel Neil said are chronic hot spots in the community.
Students in the Auburn University School of Nursing will help run the bus as part of their community clinicals. Other allied health fields, such as social work, nutrition and pharmacy may also have students who participate.
“The only way you can gain that experience is by getting out there and doing it,” Neil said. “Watching video or going through a mock exercise, you might get some of the nuts and bolts of how to do it, but until you encounter resistance, or ‘Wait, I didn’t understand that part of the problem,’ and then you work together as a team to resolve that, that’s when you get really creative. That's when understanding of an issue can really grow.”
Neil said he hopes this will be a sustained project in which future generations of students can participate.
"You might get a professor who does a project for a grant-funded period, but it doesn’t last," he said. "And then you’ve got a community that’s sitting there going, 'Hey, when are those Auburn people coming back? They were here five years ago, but they never came back.'"
The Mobile Health Clinic will run on a schedule so that the community will know when to expect the bus in their neighborhoods.
“We need the community by it,” Neil said. “We need community trust for it to work.”
Working in these communities will teach the students a different approach to health care than what they would learn from working in hospitals, said Jean Dubois, director of outreach at Auburn's School of Nursing.
“They can see kind of the type of housing that they live in, what maybe home situations they come from,” said Dubois. “This is actually more focused on the person in their community and what health resources they have within their community.”
Because the bus is a small space, Dubois said not every nursing student will have a chance to work in it. However, the school will have other opportunities for similar experiences.
The clinic on wheels is being modeled after a project at the University of Florida that took student doctors on a bus to high-risk areas. Because of its success, Neil said he believes the same idea will do well in the Opelika community. He said he hopes to expand the mobile health services to Auburn and maybe farther if outreach in Opelika is successful.
“We still have pockets of our communities that are not enjoying the full effects of living here,” he said. “There are these health care deserts that are right around us.”
The bus will treat people without health insurance, “no questions asked,” Neil said. It will perform services such as health screenings, blood pressure tests, pregnancy tests, HIV tests and other services you would normally find in a general practitioner’s office.