Number of Free Clinics Run by Medical Students Has Doubled

More than half of all medical students are involved in such clinics, researchers say

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The number of medical student-run free clinics at U.S. medical schools has doubled in the last decade, according to a research letter published in the Dec. 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a theme issue on medical education.

In 2005, there were about 110 student-run free clinics at 49 medical schools that belonged to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). This new study found 208 such clinics at 86 AAMC-member medical schools. More than half of all medical students (57.8 percent) are involved in such clinics, Sunny Smith, M.D., of the University of California in San Diego, and colleagues found. But, about half of the medical schools (53 percent) offer no academic credit to students for their participation in the clinics.

Outpatient adult medicine, health care maintenance, chronic disease management, language interpreters, and social work are services often provided by the clinics, according to a university news release. Diabetes and hypertension are the most common types of health conditions treated at the clinics, the investigators found. Medical students said the biggest challenges at the clinics are too few faculty supervisors and a lack of funding.

"Despite the lack of academic credit at many institutions, most medical students are volunteering in this setting. Given the ubiquity of student-run free clinics in the education of future physicians, further research is needed to assess their educational and clinical outcomes," Smith and colleagues write. "The lack of funding and sufficient faculty supervisors identified as the biggest challenges in student-run free clinics are actionable items because institutional support could help stabilize and improve these educational opportunities for years to come."

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