January 25, 2017

WSU medical students to be featured in Street Medicine documentary

A number of Wayne State University medical students, members of Street Medicine Detroit, will appear in a documentary about the movement and its founder, Jim Withers, M.D.

Filmmaker Jeffrey Sewald shot footage of Dr. Withers and WSU medical students on street runs to bring medicine to Detroit's homeless during several days the week of Jan. 12-15 for his yet-untitled documentary.

Sewald said he wants the film to reach those unfamiliar with the Street Medicine launched by Dr. Withers in Pittsburg.

"It's easy to preach to the converted," Sewald said. "Our aim is to craft an argument for the practice of street medicine that will reach the unconverted. It's a great story of human compassion -- one that deserves to be told."

Dr. Withers, recently named a CNN Hero, launched the movement that brought medical care to the homeless living on the streets in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s. He has worked to spread the project to multiple cities since then, including working with WSU medical students to form Street Medicine Detroit. Street Medicine efforts in cities around the world have led to a global awareness of the movement, which embodies compassionate, accessible and cost-effective care to a population that otherwise would not be served medically. Wayne State University School of Medicine students formed a chapter in 2012.

Esther Chae, M.B.A., a fourth-year WSU medical student and president of Street Medicine Detroit, said Sewald wanted to feature "how strongly we feel about working in the community."

Chae, who joined the chapter in 2013, said the roster of Street Medicine Detroit now numbers 300 WSU medical students. Those students rotate in groups of about six at a time volunteering for "street runs" twice a week. The number of patients treated by the students to date is 776, while the number of encounters is 1,128. "We are seeing repeat patients, which is great for continuity of care and rapport," Chae explained.

Originally from Korea, Chae lived most of her life in Windsor, Canada. She is considering a career in women's health or primary care. She joined Street Medicine Detroit because, like most WSU medical students, she felt the strong draw to help the community.

"I met John (WSU alum Jonathan Wong, the founder of Street Medicine Detroit) in the cafeteria and he was telling us what they do. It really spoke to me," said Chae, whose grandfather is a physician in Korea. "I like the fact that there is a need in the community and that we are able to react to that need as medical students. I want to be part of the community and a leader who understands needs. That's what called me to medicine."

Sewald is still shooting footage for the independent documentary. His most recent feature documentary, "Peter Matthiessen: No Boundaries," was narrated by actress Glenn Close and aired nationally on PBS in April 2009. The film went on to receive a CINE Golden Eagle Award and a special citation from the Mid-Atlantic Emmy Committee for excellence in the documentary category.