As a strong Pittsburg State University supporter, Dr. Kathleen Sandness (BA '83) was looking for a way to give back when she found something that benefited not only students, but area physicians and community members, as well.
Sandness had returned to Pittsburg in 1991 to open her own practice after receiving her medical degree at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The PSU Free Clinic, a medical clinic operated by students in the pre-med program, had been already been opened by a local doctor - but the program needed revitalization. That's when Sandness stepped in.
"A problem in medical care is the issue of students being able to observe and learn while dealing the issue of confidentiality," she said. "I love to teach and it was important to me to be a mentor and find a way to give them that experience."
Located at the Wesley House in Pittsburg, a ministry outreach that provides food and services to the homeless and families in need, the Free Clinic offers medical care to those without insurance or the means to pay for a doctor visit. Open Tuesday afternoons, the clinic is staffed by pre-med students who take basic information from patients before consulting with volunteer doctors who make a diagnosis and prescribe follow-up care.
The clinic offers students an opportunity for hands-on experience they wouldn't normally get until their third year of medical school. Sandness said she's found no other program like it for undergraduates in this country.
"It has made our graduates extremely competitive," she said, adding that students learn to write grant proposals, keep records, and work with patients. "It is truly their clinic. I've done everything I can to keep it in their control. Every year I've been pleased at how much students step up to the plate."
Adam Merando, a 2007 graduate who worked at the clinic before going to medical school, said the experience put him ahead of his peers.
"You go in focused on helping people, but then it also ends up being about your growth," said Merando, who will start his medical internship at KU this summer. "I was so much more prepared than some of my colleagues in med school. It's something I'll always remember as my first experience in medicine."
Sandness, who received the Outstanding Alumni Award four years ago and was recently honored with PSU's Distinguished Service Award, said she hopes all pre-med students at PSU graduate with the same perspective.
"This program brings me such joy. Watching people grow is inspiring," she said. "What better gift to give back than to mentor people? It challenges me to be a better doctor and a better person."