Concordia University Texas’ School of Nursing launched their mobile Medical Missions Van in an on-campus ribbon-cutting ceremony last week.
The van will operate as a pop-up clinic operated by nursing students taking community health, a required course for all Concordia nursing students.
“The biggest impact the van has is that it allows Concordia nursing students to become the first stop for people in the community who are wrestling with a medical issue," Dr. Greta Degen, RN, Concordia’s Nursing program director, said. "Students can use their nursing knowledge to screen and educate individuals on their health issue or medication before needing to go see a doctor or visit an emergency room.”
Since 2015, Concordia nursing students have spent up to two days every week providing free, basic healthcare in communities across Travis and Williamson counties as part of their community health practicum. The van, funded by an Austin Community Foundation grant, provides enough space for students to sit with clients and store their medical supplies inside. Prior to acquiring the van, Degen transported medical supplies in the trunk of her car.
In the van’s inaugural trip last month, a team of six nursing students and their community health professor, a registered nurse, partnered with Church Under the Bridge, a local ministry that brings fellowship and food to people living under I-35 in Austin. The students set up foot-washing stations for individuals living under the bridge.
“We can learn a lot about a person’s health based on their feet,” Degen said. “The color of their skin, the condition of their toe nails, their level of hydration, if they have blisters or not, their alignment. Also, while the students are caring for their feet, the person is captive in the chair, and we get their stories. We learn why they’re homeless. We meet mothers who’ve escaped with their children from abusive relationships. We meet former stock brokers.”
Mobile medical clinics are used around the world. According to the World Health Organization, mobile clinics are valuable in regions affected by war, humanitarian crises and natural disasters because they connect healthcare professionals and medical supplies with people in cut off or isolated communities.
Mobile clinics can also be useful in communities where public transportation is limited or nonexistent, as it is in parts of Travis and Williamson counties. The Austin/Travis County 2018 Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) identified public transportation as the biggest healthcare barrier for Travis county residents. As residents leave the city center to find affordable housing, they may find themselves outside public transportation service areas and unable to reach their doctor.
“When you live in a high-income country, it’s easy to overlook the most vulnerable communities, which do exist," Dr. Glendene Lemard-Marlow, Concordia professor of Global Public Health, said. "The mobile Medical Missions Van opens up access to healthcare to those who would have not have otherwise had it. Concordia is able to take a concept that is useful in the most impoverished parts of the world to serve populations here that could be easily overlooked if we’re not careful.”
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