The First Chicagoland Free Clinics Consortium Conference

by James Zhang and Isaiah Sommers,  MS22

On November 3rd, 2018 the Chicagoland Free Clinics Consortium (CFCC) held its inaugural Chicago-wide conference, hosted by the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. The CFCC Conference was the first of its kind, bringing together over 70 students who are leaders in the free student-run clinics of the different Chicagoland medical schools. The mission of CFCC is to promote inter-clinic communication, resource-sharing, and solidarity, and the conference was the first CFCC event to jumpstart this work. Attendees included representatives from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine (UChicago), Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine (LUC), Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (NU), Rush University Medical College (Rush), Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFU), and the University of Illinois College of Medicine (UIC). Eighteen different free clinic leadership boards were represented, as well as an interdisciplinary range of fields including medicine, clinical psychology, podiatry, and nursing.

The Introductory Session

The conference featured Clinic Highlight sessions, in which representatives of different Chicagoland free Clinics discussed the unique strengths and challenges of their clinic operations. Highlighted clinics included UIC’s Student Run Free Clinic at CommunityHealth, the Rush Community Service Initiative Program Clinic at Haymarket Center, and NU’s Chicago Youth Programs Pediatric Clinic. Each clinic discussed the unique needs of their respective patient populations, and the ways in which they worked to best serve those needs.

A Poster Session

The conference also featured Student-Led Sessions on Best Practices, in which leaders from different free clinics highlighted unique strengths of their clinics. During these sessions, representatives from the University of Chicago’s Maria Shelter Clinic discussed the ways they approach mental health care and discussions with their patients. Leaders from RFU’s Interprofessional Community Clinic shared the ways they focused on care transition and patient follow-up. Leaders from the UChicago CommunityHealth Clinic board discussed their approach to physician recruiting and volunteer management. Representatives from the New Life Volunteering Society shared their strategies for effectively utilizing electronic medical records (EMR).

Lunch during the Conference

Dr. Julie Darnell, PhD, MHSA delivered the conference’s keynote address, “A Portrait of a Free and Charitable Clinic: Results from a National Survey”. In her address, she discussed the current state of the national free clinic landscape and provided conference attendees with the national context within which each of their clinics operate. Dr. Darnell’s work surveyed over 1,000 free clinics across the country, and assessed varying metrics for each clinic, including amount and sources of funding, location descriptors, services provided, and patient population. One finding she presented concerned the effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the free clinic landscape. Dr. Darnell found that, after the ACA, the total number of patients seen by free clinics across the country decreased, but the number of visits conducted at the clinics remained stable. She also found that the ACA had little to no effect on the rate of free clinic openings and closures.

The conference concluded with a brainstorming session, during which each free clinic board came together with their fellow board members to discuss the ways they could incorporate ideas from other clinics into their own free clinic practice, as well as ways they could use the CFCC as an asset. During this brainstorming, student leaders put forward different initiatives that the CFCC could be used to address, such as initiatives concerning funding strategies, utilization of EMR, methods of volunteer and leadership transitions, and discussions of the ethical issues inherent to student-run free clinics.

The Brainstorming Session

In this first iteration of the CFCC conference, a space was created for all Chicagoland student-run free clinics to learn from each other, to share resources, and to work together to best serve patient populations across the Chicago area. At the conference, the CFCC announced the initiation of the Resource Repository, an online databank through which CFCC member clinics can share resources and data. The CFCC also announced the Innovation Fund, a CFCC granting program offering up to $500 grants for CFCC Free Clinic Leaders to create, sustain, or build upon a project to improve the health and well-being of Chicago communities.

Along with these initiatives, the CFCC is currently planning for workshops throughout the academic year that will focus on addressing challenges faced by many or all student-run free clinics in Chicago. With its first conference, the CFCC began a process of creating and supporting a dynamic partnership among the student-run free clinics and medical schools across Chicagoland in order to better serve communities and patients.

This conference was organized by CFCC organizers Annie Zhang (MS21), Stephanie Bi (MS21), Abena Appah-Sampong (MS21), Allen Zhu (MSTP), Anthony Hung (MSTP), Jillian Baranowski (MS21), Lucy Xu (MS20), Mark Chee (MS20), Phillip Hsu, PhD'18 (MS21), and Sharon Zeng (MS21), with help from incoming organizers Itzel Lopez-Hinojosa (MS22), Chloe Hall (MS22), Isaiah Sommers (MS22), Allison Schutt (MS22), and James Zhang (MS22), along with James Woodruff, MD, Dean of Students, Kate Blythe, Executive Director of Student Affairs, Rebecca Silverman, Manager of Communications and Student Services, Monica Vela, MD'93, Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs, Bethany Shephard, MA, Admissions and Financial Aid Administrator, Don Churilla, Building Manager, and Karen Kim, MD, Dean for Faculty Affairs.