Published June 20, 2013
The student-run Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic has been honored with an award recognizing contributions to the community, and its student organizers—past and present—have been recognized for their commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The Buffalo NAACP’s 2013 Daniel R. Acker Community Service Award recognizes the clinic’s important role in providing basic health care to the medically underserved on Buffalo’s East Side.
Presented June 9 during the branch’s 47th annual awards dinner at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, the award is named in honor of Daniel Acker, a chemist and noted civil rights advocate who led the Buffalo NAACP for 25 years.
The Buffalo branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People solicits nominations from the community for this annual award.
The 2013 Medical Student Award of Excellence for Promoting Inclusion and Cultural Diversity honors all medical students who have participated in the clinic since it opened in 2001.
This is one of four inaugural awards given by the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences’ new Office of Inclusion and Cultural Enhancement.
The awards were presented June 5 during the medical school’s Stockton Kimball Lecture and Faculty/Staff Recognition Awards celebration.
Located at Jefferson Avenue and East Utica Street, the free drop-in clinic offers routine health care and preventive services to uninsured patients in this low-income community.
Services include physicals, vaccinations, referrals, screenings for chronic conditions, generic medications, assistance obtaining insurance and counseling and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.
“The community has come to appreciate the clinic, given that there are many without access to needed medical care,” says Kirk Scirto, MD, clinical assistant professor of family medicine, and the clinic’s faculty adviser.
“The community has come to trust Lighthouse given the long-standing compassion of the medical students, as well as our partnership with Group Ministries, which has done excellent community work in the area,” he says.
While the clinic benefits patients, it also offers valuable training for more than 300 UB medical students, including eight who serve as managers each year, as well as community service opportunities for volunteer faculty physicians and nurse practitioners.
“I am so proud of this organization and all the people who have worked so hard to make it great,” says rising second-year medical student Sarah Belliotti, one of the Lighthouse managers. “These are the people who should be recognized.”
The training experience “is a marvelous one,” says Susan Schwartz, MD, clinical professor emeritus of medicine and a volunteer physician.
“It puts [the medical students] in contact with a segment of the population they might not otherwise meet.”
“They learn to address some of the problems of the urban poor as well as some medicine,” she says. “The managers get experience in setting up and running a practice.”
“The student organizers have an intense desire to help those who need it most and they do not want to wait until the end of their training to start making a big difference,” notes Scirto, who served as a Lighthouse manager while earning his medical degree at UB.
Belliotti and her classmates are already learning to address some of the challenges they will likely face in their own practices.
“It’s really eye opening to meet a child who hasn’t been in for a regular check-up in years, or an adult with a chronic illness that goes unmanaged because prescription costs are too high, or a teenager coming in for STD testing who doesn’t know how to use a condom,” she says.
“These real-life situations help teach us about health disparities as well as our own limitations,” she adds.
This experience “will make them more effective doctors, as they learn to see people’s social needs and not only their diseases,” notes Scirto.
The medical students work as part of an interdisciplinary team, as the clinic also involves the local health department and UB students preparing to be dietitians, social workers, dentists and pharmacists.
“It’s a great site for interdisciplinary education,” says Chester Fox, MD, professor of family medicine and the clinic’s first faculty adviser who volunteered in this role for more than a decade.
Belliotti agrees. “Lighthouse really begins laying a foundation for medical students to approach medicine from an interdisciplinary and a social justice perspective,” she says.
The clinic also has served as an added incentive for prospective medical students, notes Schwartz.
“Undergraduate students tell me that they are attracted to the medical school at UB partly because of the existence of the Lighthouse Clinic,” she says.