CHAMPAIGN – University of Illinois medical students don't have a lot of free time. Most of them are working on both a medical doctorate and a Ph.D.
But a group of them called HeRMES is finding time this summer to provide free physicals for many Champaign students, who now must have the doctor's exam three times during the school years.
Last year, 600 pupils sought out the physicals, and HeRMES students were part of 150 of those physicals.
HeRMES, Helping Revitalize Medical Education through Service, is the brainchild of Dipesh Navsaria and Chris Erb.
Last week, the volunteers performed the free physicals at the Champaign County Christian Health Center's Salt and Light facility in Champaign.
That health center has teamed with the public health department, Frances Nelson Health Center, Carle Foundation Hospital and Provena Covenant Hospital to offer health services to people of low income.
On a Thursday evening, several medical students, as well as a practicing physician, worked with parents and volunteers to get through the backlog of students who need the physicals to start the next school year.
The next date for free physicals has not yet been scheduled.
Erb said the students helped out last fall, and saw the need to start the process earlier in the years so the pupils will be ready for fall.
The Champaign school district is thrilled with their work.
"The medical students are wonderful," said Hattie Paulk, who has been coordinating physicals as the director of the district's Family Information Center.
She said the students have learned from the experience as well.
"I think it's been eye-opening for them," Paulk said. "They found kids who are blind in one eye. Another had curvature of the spine."
Erb said that's exactly what he hoped would be the experience for the volunteers.
Medical students at the Urbana campus are mainly in the Medical Scholars Program, where they graduate with two degrees. Erb's second doctorate will be in community heath; others are studying law, history, neurosciences and other disciplines.
There are about 30 students per class.
He said the Urbana medical students have limited experience in longitudinal medicine, following patients over a period of time. The physicals have led to further treatment, from finding social workers to helping pupils get prescription medicine to obtaining dental and eye care.
"We feel the training we get from this is very valuable," Erb said. "In typical medical training, we don't always work enough with these populations."
There's plenty more work to do, he said.
"One of the things we're interested in is setting up a local pharmacy program, and to get free medications for people who are qualified," Erb said.
Paulk said seeing the HeRMES volunteers work gives her a good feeling about the future.
"When you find a student who is that committed, they will make wonderful doctors," Paulk said.
Some of the funding for HeRMES came from Cover The Uninsured Week, whose main sponsor is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the Association of American Medical Colleges provided a grant for the physicals, Erb said.
Erb said donations to the Christian Health Center will benefit other low-income patients.