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Care On Call

SharewoodAt the Tufts-run Sharewood Clinic, Tufts medical students are not only helping disadvantaged members of the community, but getting a head start at being a physician.


It's a bitter February night in Malden, Mass., and the volunteer staff at Sharewood, a free health clinic housed inside the city's First Church, is debating whether the cold will keep patients at home. But when the doors open, three people are already stamping off the chill: a man with a severe chest cough and a young couple who cling tightly to each other's coats.

The patients won't have to wait long to be seen. Gathered behind the church auditorium's stage are more than 30 Tufts first-year medical students, each hoping for the opportunity to treat a live human being. Even the chance to conduct a routine physical is welcome experience. According to Jeff William, a first-year medical student and Sharewood's administrative director, from a student's perspective, every case is worth hundreds of classroom hours.

A volunteer-based clinic run by Tufts students and supported by Tufts' family medicine residency program, Sharewood has been held every Tuesday from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in a publicly accessible location—first in Boston and now in Malden, just a few miles from Tufts' Medford/Somerville campus. Since its inception a decade ago, Sharewood has had over 2,500 visits from 1,500 different patients.

"Every patient who comes to Sharewood is helping to train a future doctor or healthcare professional."

— Jeff William

Under the close supervision of staff physicians, students dispense an impressive range of acute care to anyone who walks through the door, including specialized services such as psychiatric counseling, STD testing and laboratory screening. Curtained cubicles guarantee patients as much privacy as possible, and students take pains to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Tonight, a student has plugged her iPod into a set of speakers, and soft jazz echoes through the hall.

Because Sharewood is a teaching clinic, appointments take approximately 90 minutes, during which patients are seen and examined by a team of two students and a single resident, supervised by an attending physician. For patients, the prospect of free first-rate health care and medication appear to make the wait worthwhile. On average, nearly half of Sharewood's patients are repeat visitors.

"Most people seem to understand that we're still learning and are willing to put up with longer waits than they might have at a physician's office," says William. "Every patient who comes to Sharewood is helping to train a future doctor or healthcare professional."

Sharewood

Tufts medical student Erin Sweatt studies a chart with Harvard Medical School student Wande Pratt.

Established in 1997 by Tufts medical students who named it after Robin Hood's legendary Sherwood Forest, the clinic "takes" from the haves in the form of legitimate donations of equipment and pharmaceuticals from medical schools and hospitals, and gives to the have-nots, who make up the increasing number of urban and suburban residents without health insurance.

Malden's mayor, Richard C. Howard, applauds the clinic for serving the entire community, especially the city's diverse immigrant population, which includes a growing number of Asian, Hispanic, African and Arabic residents.

"Sharewood is an enormous help for people who would normally not get that kind of care," says Howard. "Malden is home to a significant number of immigrant families in transition, so we're the kind of community that can really support and benefit students of family medicine."

For the past five years, the city of Malden has helped support Sharewood through a redevelopment grant. Other financial support comes from the American Association of Medical College's Caring for Community grant and the Tri-City Community Action Project (TRICAP), which refers patients to Sharewood on a regular basis. (continued)

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Profile written by Claire Vail

Photos by Jodi Hilton for Tufts University

This story originally ran on Mar. 5, 2007.