James Madison University

Students Volunteer Medical Assistance in Rural Areas

By: Dina Manco '16
Posted: November 16, 2015

A dental professional has three patients reclined in their chairs. She places a tooth mold in the open mouth of one, moves to patient number two and finishes her previous work, goes back to the other in time to remove the mold, and starts a new task on the third patient. When she reaches a stopping point, she heads to the refreshments tent, shoves a whole cinnamon bun in her mouth, and swallows quickly. Her meal break over, she grabs a fresh pair of gloves, stretches them over her tired hands,  and returns to the line of patients waiting for procedures during her twelve-hour day at the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps (RAM) clinic. These clinics are impactful experiences for students enrolled in Social Work 314: Rural Health.

The course facilitated by Dr. Laura Hunt Trull is open to all majors and offers a hands-on approach to understanding healthcare in rural areas. A unique aspect of the course is Trull’s newly implemented requirement to volunteer at one of the Virginia RAM clinics. This semester students traveled to RAM sites in Grundy and Lee County, VA. These weekend pop-up clinics offer free medical, dental, and vision services for patients.

PHOTO: JMU students volunteering

Trull says, “The clinics are offered in areas of high need and low access. So many of the patients that we saw use this RAM clinic as their primary care clinic. They come annually, they often sleep in their cars and they wait in line overnight, sometimes for days to have access to these services. The only time where they see a physician or a dentist or an ophthalmologist is through these clinics because the services aren’t available in their area or are [too] expensive.”

Social Work senior Sarah James who attended a clinic in Grundy, VA witnessed various full mouth extractions. She says, “Seeing [patients] actually relieved about it was incredible because you go to your dentist and you freak out about a cavity getting filled—these people are going to the only time they can see a dentist all year, and they’re thrilled about getting all their teeth pulled because they’re decaying.”

Students lent their skills to assist in the direction of patients to different sections of the clinic, the registration process, the optician laboratory, and the vitals checkpoint based on their previous experience. They volunteered from 5am-6pm on Saturday and 5am-12pm on Sunday. The two clinics offered to the students were in the third and sixth week of classes. This enables the class to relate its experience to concepts they learn throughout the course.
Trull comments, “There was a different quality to experiencing it rather than reading about it or hearing about it. Many students looked up future RAM clinics to volunteer on their own, talked about organizing students and carpooling to other clinics in the future since many students said this really solidified their desire to work in a rural area.”

PHOTO: RAMS truck and equipment

James explains that after the clinic leaves town, most of the patients are left with no follow-up care. She remarks, “I think that opened my eyes again to what a problem this is and that there needs to be more physicians in this area, but how are we going to make that happen? What incentives would these physicians have to go out there?” She adds, “I just wish more people could see this and experience what RAM has to offer because I think it could be a solution to the problem.”

James highly recommends Social Work 314 to students as it deepened her passion for social work and emergency medical services while learning about rural communities. She is looking into volunteering at a RAM clinic in mid-November with other JMU students to increase the number of helping hands for those in need.