Students help homeless men put their best foot forward

foot clinic
From left: Dr. Khristine Sparta and Quinnipiac physician assistant students Ryan McMahon and Mary Sweeney participated in a free foot clinic recently at the men’s shelter on Grand Avenue in New Haven.

Feb. 26, 2014 - Members of the Quinnipiac Primary Care Progress (PCP) chapter offered a free foot clinic on Feb. 21 at the men's shelter on Grand Avenue in New Haven.

"The foot clinic has given me the opportunity to interact with members of the health care team while providing a much-needed service to the underserved homeless population," said Mary Sweeney, a second-year physician assistant student and clinic co-coordinator. "It is a place where I can see the joy created by giving back to those who need it most." 

Sweeney organized the event along with first-year physician assistant students Kerin Berger and Kathleen Kelley. 

Founded in 2009, Primary Care Progress is a national non-profit network of medical providers, health professional trainees, policy experts, advocates and educators who aim to revitalize primary care in the United States.

Sweeney said a group of 25 students, led by the PA students and representing the spectrum of health science programs at the University, participated in the clinic.

"It's wonderful to see everyone stepping out of the classroom to apply their skills in an underserved setting," Berger said. 

The clinic not only provided podiatric care to the homeless, but it was designed to allow health care students to work alongside professionals and develop real-world skills. The clinic featured stations for foot washing, foot education, orthotics (which were made on site and distributed to the men by the end of the clinic) and foot care. Each man received a care package consisting of a new pair of socks, travel-sized moisturizer and travel-sized powder.

The clinic also included neuropathic examinations, pathology screenings, tissue debridement, nail care and, when necessary, appropriate referrals to a podiatrist for further examination. 

"It was an incredible experience working with this population," said first-year PA student Elizabeth Murray. "These men had the utmost level of respect and appreciation for our work. They helped to remind me what medicine is all about - it's not about who can afford it. It's about who needs it, who appreciates it and who respects their provider's passion." 

The health science students conduct two foot clinics per semester with help from advisors Cynthia Lord, clinical associate professor of physician assistant studies and director of the physician assistant program, Donald Kowalsky, associate professor of physical therapy, and Dr. Khristine Sparta of Associated Podiatrists in North Haven.

"I felt like the men at the shelter were truly and positively impacted by the clinic," said first-year PA student Liz Sherman. "It was an amazing experience for everyone involved, especially the men at the shelter."

The PCP chapter receives funding for the foot clinics from Quinnipiac's Center for Interprofessional Healthcare Education. The students plan to apply for additional grants and are accepting donations such as men's socks and shoes and travel-sized moisturizer and powder.

For more information or to donate, email mary.sweeney@quinnipiac.edu or kerin.berger@quinnipiac.edu