Hundreds of volunteers make United to Serve a success

By Connie Piloto


Hours before UT Southwestern students, faculty and staff transformed nearby T.J. Rusk Middle School into a mini-health care facility and science laboratory for kids, families were already lining up outside the doors.

The annual health fair, organized by UT Southwestern students and staffed by more than 400 medical center volunteers, has grown in popularity since its inception in 2004 and is now an event that the neighborhood has come to rely on.

Health information and screenings for the entire family — from vaccinations to vision checks to cooking demonstrations showing healthy ways to prepare meals — are all features of the April 18 event, which is part of a UT System-wide day of volunteerism called United to Serve.

united to serve
Joe Spellman, second-year medical student, examines José Juarez, 14, during a school sports physical examination at United to Serve. UT Southwestern physicians supervised and conducted the physicals.

Josefina Villanueva attends the event every year with her children and relatives.

Mrs. Villanueva underwent preventive screenings for diabetes and cholesterol while her children, Jason, 6, and Berenice, 8, played with UT Southwestern students in a living science museum set up in the school gymnasium.

“This event is wonderful,” Mrs. Villanueva said. “I am learning how to take better care of myself and my family, and my kids are learning and having fun.”

UT Southwestern students created the living science museum, which featured interactive exhibits, hands-on activities and science experiments. Students taught children how to extract DNA from strawberries, and about the workings of the inner ear.

“Every health fair has handouts and screenings, but beyond carnival games, there is usually not much for the kids,” said second-year medical student Elizabeth Carroll, who also served as chair of the event. “The medical museum — an interactive and educational tour of the human body from head to toe — was made a reality by seven medical students last year.”

Ms. Carroll, winner of UT Southwestern’s 2009 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship for Community Service Award, was one of the students who designed the attraction. She said that although the concept was designed with children in mind, it was also a huge hit with parents.

“We’re hoping to build on its success and model some of the health fair booths on the ‘medical museum’ concept in the future,” Ms. Carroll said. “We want to get people excited about learning and engaged in the process, and this seems to be one way to do it.”

Nearby, members of the Emergency Medicine Student Association (EMSA) taught cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The students have been teaching CPR at the fair for three years.

About 100 people were trained at the event, and unlike previous years when they used a DVD to demonstrate the CPR techniques, students personally taught most of the younger children this year and used the DVD for older children and adults.

“Because we actively taught our participants we had a much larger and more enthusiastic turnout,” said Christina Wang, a second-year medical student and EMSA officer. “It makes me feel great that we’re reaching out to save lives.”

Each year the number of families attending United to Serve grows. About 1,200 people attended the health fair this year, compared with 550 in 2007.

united to serve
Erik Rodriguez, 6, extracts DNA from strawberries with the assistance of John Sy, first-year medical student, and Ti-Eka Edet, a medical laboratory sciences student.

More than 40 women had mammogram screenings inside the UT Southwestern Center for Breast Care Digital Mammography Unit, stationed in the Rusk parking lot. The state-of-the-art mobile unit provides mammograms in a self-contained 18-wheeler coach designed on the inside to look like a standard medical office.

“Due to the high demand for mammograms, the
UT Southwestern mobile unit returned to the school on two other occasions and screened 44 other women,” said Gloria Espinosa, program coordinator for the mobile unit. “This is the greatest number of women we have screened at the event and who expressed interest in having a digital screening mammogram on the unit. Most of these women would not have had a mammogram had the unit not been available and accessible to them at this local event.”

Students in the medical school, school of health professions and graduate school of biomedical sciences spend months planning for the event and coordinate with UT Southwestern faculty to help provide medical services, including school sports physicals as well as preventive medicine seminars and screenings. The students also meet with area business owners and church and school leaders to coordinate efforts to get the word out about the event. The day was planned by about 40 students and several staff members.

Students and faculty said volunteering is an essential component in the already rigorous medical education that students receive.

“Medical school can be all-consuming, but each one of us hopes to make a difference in the lives of others,” Ms. Carroll said. “Through activities like these, that goal does not have to be postponed until the clinical years. This is my third year being involved with this event, and to see how much it means to the community as well as the students means the world to me.”