clinic since it began. “It seems like the students always ask the right questions.”
Defined by its African-American population, Bloomer Hill is a rural community
of working poor, Pignone said. Some of its
residents suffer from diabetes, stroke and
heart disease, among other health conditions. It is a case study in the socioeconomic realities of modern health care.
“There has been a failure to ensure
health care in our country,” Pignone said.
“We are doing our part with the clinic to
grow an active and urgent movement for a
more systematic solution.”
The two main sources of jobs in the area
are farming and the Consolidated Diesel
plant, but usually there are no benefits. If
they don’t visit the clinic, patients otherwise
visit the hospital emergency room or a local
doctor and pay in cash, Pignone said.
“I remember once in the ’80s when I
was sick and I came to the clinic,” said
Rocky Mount resident Rachel Sutton. “It
turns out I had diabetes and coming to the
clinic was how I found out.”
Relationships like these, built over the
course of the clinic’s operation, led to the
development of a service-learning course for
second-year students in the mid-1990s. “It
became obvious to me that we needed more
continuity so that it wasn’t just 12 unrelated
experiences every year,” Pignone said. The
course serves as a debriefing period and
opportunity for further patient discussion.
Students also develop and implement
community projects such as blood pressure
screenings outside grocery stores and
domestic violence prevention in schools.
“The clinic is not building a sustainable
model for national health care,” said Amy
Denham, a clinical assistant professor in the
department of family medicine who volunteered with the clinic when she was a UNC
medical student in the 1990s. “But the potential impact is through heightened awareness
and increased advocacy.”
Lindsay Veit, a second-year, said she
keeps coming because she deals with vari-
ables that can’t be taught in the classroom.
“Bloomer Hill has been good for me in
learning how to address the social aspects
that affect patient care,” she said. “These
patients are affected by outside factors that
we can’t deal with tangibly in medicine.”
Because students usually spend an hour
with each patient — a luxury that isn’t
typical in medicine’s more professional setting — they establish lasting relationships.
“It’s the only patient situation where I
don’t feel rushed,” Veit said. “I can ask them
a detailed family and social history … and
you never get to do that in the real world.”
“People are here because they want to
be here,” said first-year Nitasha Menon.
“They may not be the most medically
knowledgeable or the best at compliance,
but they care enough to be here.”
“The students will make it go,” Pignone
said. “It’s great to have new energy with
their sets of eyes.”
— Stephanie Newton
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