To address the health care needs of the medically underserved Latino community, Wayne State University student organization Amigos Médicos is on a mission that goes beyond education and community service.
With a history spanning more than two decades, the student-led group at the WSU School of Medicine also has sought to unify Latino medical students over the years, networking throughout the campus and the community and even forming a partnership with fellow student organization Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA). Working as essentially one group, LMSA/Amigos Médicos engages with metro Detroit to provide clinical services, mentorship and outreach opportunities, all geared toward supporting services to all residents with a special emphasis on Hispanic and Latino communities.
“For Amigos Médicos, building a partnership with LMSA has allowed the organization to reach a broader audience and have access to a large network of Hispanic/Latino physicians and medical trainees across the country,” said Tannia M. Rodríguez, who serves as director of community and member engagement. “The university’s expanding Hispanic/Latino student population in 2010 made it possible to develop the organization and its community engagement both locally and abroad.”
Starting several years ago with clinics at All Saints Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry, LMSA/Amigos Médicos has since grown its reach to serve multiple communities in southwest Detroit. This expansion was made possible through partnerships with organizations such as the Ford Resource and Engagement Center and CHASS Center Clinic, and through participation in local K-12 education initiatives.
At one of the clinics held at southwest Detroit’s Ford Resource and Engagement Center, the group provides blood pressure checks, glucose screenings and general counseling, and assists with resources for medical care for individuals receiving food assistance. Each year, the group works in the clinic with over 40 medical students under the supervision of a senior physician.
“We want to cultivate a sense of community at the medical school and continue to provide value to southwest Detroit,” said LMSA/Amigos Médicos President Jose Lopez.
Efforts extend well beyond clinic walls. Through partnerships with organizations such as Vision Detroit and Sightsavers, LMSA/Amigos Médicos has guided community residents to essential ophthalmic care and helped prevent certain health issues from worsening.
Rodríguez said another benefit of volunteer work is that students can see the positive impact that the organization has had on the Latino community.
“One patient we saw in our clinic was able to receive a letter recommending ocular surgery to address her underlying glaucoma,” she said. “We have also expanded the clinic to include a senior family physician to oversee all patient encounters and ensure optimal patient care.”
Rodríguez noted that the group has also worked to establish two-way communications with the communities it serves, going directly to residents for information.
“The best way to identify and understand the needs of a specific community is to ask the community members what issues they may be facing,” she said.
To accomplish this, the group maintains regular interaction with community residents through weekly and monthly sessions, primarily conducted during Amigos Médicos Clinic services held on Tuesdays. Additionally, group members distribute surveys at every health fair, concentrating on identifying obstacles that could hinder access to health care and addressing other concerns.
“If we notice a common trend with our patient population, we ask more questions and find ways to provide solutions through community and organization partnerships,” Rodríguez said. “Understanding the yearly impact we have within the metro Detroit community is vital for improving current initiatives, developing new efforts based on need and determining best practices.”
The organization goes beyond serving community members; it also works to create a support system that helps medical students navigate their education. The group aims to provide a voice for underrepresented medical students.
“We provide mentorship opportunities and advocate for medical students of Hispanic and Latino heritage throughout their training,” said Rodríguez. “These goals are achieved through medical Spanish language sessions, volunteer experiences in bilingual health care settings, educational initiatives for minority students, professional development workshops, and travel opportunities within the United States and abroad.”
Despite its commitment to its mission, LMSA/Amigos Médicos still faces obstacles on its journey.
Operating with limited financial support each year not only constrains community outreach and overall impact, but also restricts the number of initiatives the organization can undertake annually, as well as the level of dedication to each project.
“Funding and increased opportunities for networking and visibility may help with some of these challenges and logistical barriers,” Rodríguez said.
Despite the challenges, though, Rodríguez remains optimistic about the future of community health and the increase of local Latinos in the medical field who can provide services.
“We hope to welcome an increased number of Hispanic/Latino students to the School of Medicine in the years to come,” she said. “With a large Hispanic/Latino community nearby, it is essential that our student body reflects the community we serve. We look forward to continuing to expand our outreach.”
— By Darlene White