Visitors to Stepping Stones Food Pantry in Menomonie can get more than canned goods.
Since fall of 2011 students in Maleka “Polly” Hashmi’s Advanced Physiology class and in the UW-Stout Pre-Health Society, which she advises, have volunteered to serve in a student-run health clinic at the pantry. A total of 100 students have donated their time and expertise during the last 18 months.
The clinic, which is open two hours a day six days a week, operated last fall and will operate again during the coming semester. Second-semester classes begin Tuesday, Jan. 22, at UW-Stout.
Hashmi established the clinic to provide free preventative health screenings to anyone visiting the pantry. Approximately 300 local residents have been screened.
The clinic was developed specifically to screen for hypertension, obesity and diabetes, three conditions often associated with individuals who don’t get enough to eat or the right foods to eat.
Students are trained by Hashmi to measure blood pressure and calculate mean arterial pressure from the measurements, do urinalysis and interpret lung sounds. They also are trained to teach patients how to conduct self-breast and testicular exams and how to weigh and measure patients accurately. Students calculate BMI — body mass index — from the measurements.
As part of their training, students learn how to interpret results and make lifestyle recommendations for the individuals they screen.
The value of the clinic was plain to see last year. A husband and wife, Charles and Mary Smith of rural Menomonie, visited Stepping Stones. Charles decided to have his blood pressure checked by one of the UW-Stout students. His blood pressure was high, and he was referred to the free health clinic at Mayo Clinic Health System — Red Cedar in Menomonie.
At the free health clinic, it was discovered that Mary had an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder. She previously was in a wheelchair and legally blind. With treatment for the autoimmune disorder, however, she no longer is in a wheelchair and her vision has returned enough to allow her to drive.
Mary credits her ultimate diagnosis to the initial visit to the student clinic at Stepping Stones. “If it wasn’t for the student health clinic, I wouldn’t be here today,” Mary said.
Katherine Dutton, director of Stepping Stones, points out the benefits of the clinic.
“The health clinic is open to anyone but provides an especially valuable service to Stepping Stones’ clients who may not have access to affordable health care or who may put off doctors’ visits due to financial concerns,” Dutton said. “The clinic may alert them to issues that need to be addressed to prevent serious illness. Stepping Stones is very grateful to Dr. Hashmi and her students for their time and commitment to this project.”
Stepping Stones was established in the 1970s with the mission: “People helping people strengthen the Dunn County community by providing food, shelter and support.” The pantry averages 1,000 visits per month.
Successful service learning
Hashmi, who teaches in the biology department, follows up each clinic with a chance for students to reflect on their experience. From their responses, all indicated an improved understanding of course concepts.
“Working at the health clinic has been a life educational activity, from the hands-on learning to the interaction with locals. The health clinic has made me a more well-rounded individual and better prepared for a career in the health care industry,” said Thomas Shapaker, an applied science major from Belgium, Wis.
Ninety-seven percent of the students felt that they were better citizens for having participated in the service learning activity. The majority also had a positive feeling about the impact of the activity on the community. They also would like to see the clinic expand to other locations in Menomonie.
The UW-Stout clinic has been funded since 2011 with a $25,000 federal grant from Learn and Serve America through the Midwest Campus Compact.
"It was refreshing to have the opportunity to apply what I've learned from class into a real-world application,” said Allesia Rausch, a dietetics major from St. Michael, Minn. “The experience was rewarding because it gave me a chance to interact with clients and feel as if I was of real value to them."
Kayla Eernisse, dietetics, from Cedar Grove, said, "By doing the service learning project I was able take knowledge I learned in class and put it to use.”
The clinic also serves as an internship opportunity. Sarah Kholos, applied science student from Los Angeles, manages the clinic, helps train students and supervises clinic sessions. Kholos also analyzes data collected for an accompanying food security study.
Hashmi has presented the results of her clinic research at local and international conferences.
For more information about the UW-Stout applied science or dietetics programs go to www.uwstout.edu/programs/bsas or www.uwstout.edu/programs/bsd.