KCU’s Student-Run Clinic serves Kansas City’s houseless community with foot clinic

FreshStep, KCU's osteopathic medicine student run community foot clinic

As medical students, members of KCU’s Student-Run Clinic know that feet can be a window into a patient’s overall health. In an effort to improve the health and wellness of Kansas City’s underserved and unhoused community, the Student-Run Clinic designed and implemented a unique experience in foot health called FreshStep.

“We wanted to initiate a program that would be customized to the unhoused community,” said Nicolette Duong, a third-year medical student and FreshStep coordinator. “We are learning what manifests in your feet might be related to diabetes or peripheral neuropathy and we are applying what our first two years at Kansas City University was able to teach us.”

In guidance and partnership with KC CARE Health Center and C&N Consultants, the KCU student volunteers invited community members to stop by the FreshStep clinic one Saturday morning for a free foot cleaning and exam and leave with new socks and shoes, plus snacks and juice. Medical students washed the feet of those who stopped in, examined their feet and provided education on how taking care of feet can benefit the rest of the body.

“I think the participants have found this very valuable,” said second-year student doctor Nathan Ng. “I think people don’t realize the feet are often neglected. So to come here to be seen, treated and understand more about their health and how to care for their feet is a real benefit.”

Ray Newman, MD, faculty sponsor of the Student-Run Clinic provided guidance to the students and medical treatment to patients who needed it. “This is the brainchild of our KCU students,” Newman said. “My role is to supervise the students, answer any questions the patients may have that the students may not be able to answer and to provide moral support.”

The FreshStep foot clinic gave medical students an opportunity to step out of their normal realm of lectures and intense study, and into the real world, where they interact with patients in person.

“As a medical student we get so caught up in studying and reading about how to treat patients,” said Elijah Miranda, a third-year medical student. “It’s always great to see what it’s like out here and implement the skills that we have. It’s a great thing to be able to reach out to this community, and at the end of the day we are helping people.”

For the patients who came to the clinic, clean feet, education and empathy made a difference. Jason, who is unhoused and walks wherever he needs to travel, said he especially appreciated knowing the medical students care.

“I actually came for a medical visit at KC CARE when someone gave me a flyer about this. This is the first time I have had my feet cleaned and I’ve been treated really well. I was about to walk a hole in the sole of my left sole at the ball of my foot. Brand new shoes mean the world.”

As physicians, the student volunteers will one day treat patients from diverse backgrounds and those who may lack access to health care. Initiatives like FreshStep give them a better understanding of health equity issues and social determinants of health.

“The patients in this clinic have obstacles,” Newman noted. “They experience social determinants of health that other patients would never dream of trying to overcome. This is part of a good education for our KCU medical students.”

The partnership with a critical community resource is a benefit to the students and patients. “KC CARE Health Center treats a large chronic houseless population, and nearly half of our patients are uninsured or underinsured,” said Mollie Stephens of KC CARE Health Center. “We are dedicated to meeting the diverse needs of our community. KC CARE provides unconditional health care by offering hygiene, clothing, and food items in addition to our whole-person medical and support services. With the help of programs like Fresh Step, we were able to provide unrestricted access to basic foot hygiene and free medical examinations. We are so thankful to these students for giving our patients this opportunity.”

Nicolette Duong and Melissa Carlson presented results of the first FreshStep clinic to fellow students and faculty during KCU’s Research Symposium. Volunteers plan to expand the program to serve more of the community and launch a long-term research project to measure results.