In a normal year, A.T. Still University (ATSU) students who join the Still Caring Health Connection organization would have probably participated in a half-dozen health screenings or other similar events throughout northeast Missouri by now, doing what they can to increase access to care for underserved populations.
Obviously, this hasn’t been a normal year. The coronavirus pandemic has required numerous changes in all aspects of life, and health sciences education and outreach is no different. COVID-19 protocols haven’t permitted Still Caring Health Connection to hold its regular screening events, a loss for the community and eager ATSU-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine and ATSU-Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health students ready to take what they’ve learned and begin making a difference.
That doesn’t mean it’s been a lost year for the student organization. Barbara Senger, an ATSU-KCOM osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) fellow and president of Still Caring Health Connection, said the group has focused on other ways it could help the community now and in the future.
Senger grew up in North Dakota and admits she didn’t know anything about osteopathic medicine until after she completed her undergraduate degree. As someone who had already devoted part of her life to helping people through international mission trips, she quickly realized how much it aligned with her ideals.
“Once I figured out what a DO was, I was really drawn to the osteopathic principles,” Senger said. “I’m really passionate about helping underserved populations. They’re the ones who really need our help.”
When she arrived on the Kirksville, Missouri, campus, Still Caring Health Connection was a natural fit, and she had big plans for her year as president. Those plans required a pivot due to the pandemic, so Still Caring Health Connection took extra time to educate its members on underserved populations. They set up lectures from ATSU faculty and outside experts, people who could provide valuable insights on various vulnerable populations and how students could best interact with them.
Still Caring Health Connection also organized and participated in various fundraisers, providing money to AM Housing, Inc., a Kirksville community organization that helps address housing insecurity, and to the Community Mission, which provides meals to people in need, and hand sanitizer and masks to local public schools.
“It’s hard to not be able to help them in a way we have traditionally helped people,” Senger said. “We’re doing what we can to help the community.”
The organization has recently received funds, too, including grants from the American Academy of Family Physicians and Kirksville Osteopathic Alumni Association. With an eye to the future, Still Caring Health Connection has purchased personal protective equipment, iPads, and a portable EKG unit that will help during future screening events.
While those screening events aren’t likely to resume during this academic year, Still Caring Health Connection is continuing to look at other ways it can assist the community during difficult times.
“This semester we want to focus on the ‘caring’ aspect of Still Caring,” Senger said. “Mental health is a huge problem right now. People are really isolated. Students are feeling isolated, especially first-year students. Families are suffering.
“We want to focus on our outreach and find what kind of support we can give. That’s something we can hopefully do from afar.”
Senger urged current and future students to get involved in the organization. Beyond the benefits of helping the community, she said members gain valuable experience and find their standing as future physicians.
“It really helps give students a head start to get over those nerves,” she said. “You are the one that’s in charge and who patients are looking to for their medical health and advice. It really helps put students in that position that they’re going to be in for the rest of their life.
“I think we all want to be DOs because we have a more humanistic, holistic approach. We want to do this to help others. I think Still Caring is the best club you can join that will allow you to have a direct impact on the community. Still Caring is about helping people in the community who need it most.”