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A Lasting Legacy: Student-Founded ”Temple Thrive Clinic” Flourishes

POSTED ON April 09, 2021

Chris Deans admits he was skeptical at first.

The Director of Shelter Services for One Day at a Time Recovery Centers, Deans was approached two and a half years ago by students from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine (LKSOM). They were offering to launch a medical clinic at his North Philadelphia shelter, which sits about a mile from the LKSOM campus on West Lehigh Avenue.

“I didn’t see the practicality of it,” Deans says. “These are students training to be doctors, their course loads are heavy, they have social lives, they’re busy. I wasn’t sure they could consistently serve our population.”

Fortunately, he decided to take a chance on the students. It didn’t take long for his attitude to change.

“I was blown away,” he admits. “It was clear this wasn’t going to be couple-week project for them. This was going to be a longterm, beneficial partnership.”

A population in need

One Day at a Time Recovery began as a residential peer counseling and substance abuse recovery support program in 1983. The organization has expanded its scope over the decades to address issues such as HIV/AIDS and homelessness. The Lehigh Avenue shelter —- one of seven the organization operates in the city —- provides a temporary home for up to 90 people and reaches hundreds more through outreach efforts.

Thrive Founders

The students who approached Deans —- Jani Swiatek, Erin Jennings, and Joe Corcoran —- were just entering their second year of medical school at the time. They had spent the previous summer gathering data and doing research on student-run clinics. That included visiting other clinics like JeffHope, which has been in operation for decades.

Their idea was to create something different and more sustainable than what had been done by LKSOM students in the past. Something that would better meet the needs of the community.

“There had previously been a lot of good intentions, but they weren’t really working,” Swiatek says. “For example, students would go out and hold ‘microclinics’ in community centers a few times a year, but they were poorly attended. Other efforts focused on health education, but the topics were too general to attract people and it turned into forced learning.”

“The biggest takeaway from our summer research was that the successful clinics were located in shelters,” Swiatek continues. “Instead of having people come to us, we needed to go to them. Most importantly, we needed to provide the services they needed and wanted.”

Out of these takeaways was born the idea for the Temple Thrive clinic.

A success right out of the gate

In November 2018, the Thrive clinic made its debut at the Lehigh Avenue shelter. It was a hit from day 1.

“We saw over 20 patients the first day, more than other student clinics had seen in a year,” Swiatek says. “We worried the numbers would fall off, but it kept going strong and grew. We were seeing a combination of shelter residents and people from the community.”

Held once a week on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. (preCOVID), Thrive serves several purposes. First, it’s a place where community members can get medical advice or talk to a medical professional. The medical students are supervised by volunteer Temple faculty members. Key to Thrive’s success were clinic advisors Margot Savoy, MD, MPH, Chair of Family and Community Medicine, and David O'Gurek, MD, Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine.

The clinic also has an advocacy station —- the cornerstone of Thrive —- to connect area residents with local social and medical services. For this station, students Neena Kashyap, Parker Miller, and Will Schifeling created a database filled with various resources available in Philadelphia; for example, housing assistance, mental health resources, job training, or food banks. The database laid the groundwork for future students to carry on their work.

A vital-signs station checks things like blood pressure and blood sugar. A pharmacy station provides over-the-counter medications and wellness bags. Thanks to all the stations, a large number of LKSOM students could get involved —- usually between 10 and 20 each week.

“And there was something for everyone,” Swiatek says. “Firstand second-year students could come every week and volunteer at any station. Third- and fourth-years could oversee pre-clinical students at the medical station and serve on the board to shape the direction of Thrive. It’s been a great way for us to get to know our community, cover some medical and social-service gaps, and practice interacting with patients while always keeping the shelter’s needs at the forefront.”

An experience they won’t forget

In a few months, Thrive co-founders Swiatek, Jennings, and Corcoran will graduate from LKSOM, but they are leaving the clinic in good hands. Ongoing funding from the Greenfield Foundation and leadership provided by Thrive’s student governing board ensure it will live on —- exactly the intent from the beginning.

“I’m really proud of what we accomplished,” Swiatek says. “The subsequent student boards have done a great job keeping it going and improving it so it’s more efficient and effective.”

“For example,” explains Leah Goldberg, Thrive Director from 2018 to 2019, “my classmate Phil Delrosario created an AirTable platform that allowed for live tracking of clinic flow and volunteer signups. Two other students, Katie Kwon and Meghan Hotz, helped make rapid HIV testing a reality through the clinic. And Thrive coordinated with the city to offer hepatitis A vaccinations. Both the vaccinations and the HIV testing got the clinic recognized on a state and national level.”

Thrive HuddleSome of the students who have been involved say Thrive is their favorite thing about medical school. Count Jennings among them.

“On my residency interviews, I got the questions ‘What has been your most meaningful experience in medical school?’ and ‘What accomplishment are you most proud of?’ more times than I can count,” she says. “Each time the answer was easy, it was the establishment of Thrive.”

Corcoran says he will remember the camaraderie and commitment showed by all involved. “I think the most incredible thing about Thrive is the sense of a shared vision, not only between students and faculty, but also between the residents living at the shelter and the employees who make it all possible,” Corcoran says. “I've never met a group of people so dedicated to improving the common vision of a collective, and so willing to dedicate their own time and resources to reaching that vision.”

And what about Chris Deans, the original skeptic? Count him as a believer now.

“We’re so grateful for the time and care the students put in to help our community,” he says. “I get so many positive comments about their work. They’re friendly, knowledgeable and help our residents access resources they need. Because of the transitionary leadership structure they have set up, I know we have many more years ahead of us. I’m glad we found each other.”

NOTE: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thrive clinic has had to pause in-person visits to the One Day at a Time shelter. However, LKSOM students (led by Henning Ander, Eric Gramszio, and Grace Amadio) have been connecting with shelter residents through tablets, continuing to help them navigate social services remotely. The students have also dropped off countless supplies, including PPE, wellness bags, toiletries, clothing and more. Plans call for the in-person clinic to resume when it is safe.

Photo Captions: (Top) - Co-founders (l to r) Jani Swiatek, Joe Corcoran and Erin Jennings are graduating from LKSOM this year, but the Thrive clinic will live on thanks to a strong student governing board. (Bottom) - Students (l to r) Sam Watts, Joe Corcoran, and Danielle Porcera in the pre-clinic huddle.