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Community receives no-cost screenings, smiles at UTHealth Houston Cares health fair

Written By: Vicki Powers, UT Physicians | Updated: March 20, 2024
Children participating in the health fair

Young children visited the teddy bear clinic and took home their newest stuffed friend. (Photo by Kacie Fromhart, UT Physicians)

Smiling children with teddy bears in tow were a common scene at the UTHealth Houston Cares health fair on Saturday, March 9. This no-cost community event, held for the fifth year at UT Physicians Multispecialty – Jensen, provided a warm and friendly environment for children and their families. It also offered UTHealth Houston students the opportunity to put their experience into action (with guidance from experts) and connect with the community.

Eighty-five students were in full force volunteering at this student-run event. This annual health fair provided 126 no-cost screenings to individuals living in an area who often don’t have access to health care. The screening stations focused on dental, vision, blood glucose, BMI, vital signs, and a nutrition demonstration.

UTHealth Houston Student Volunteers at the community health fair
UTHealth Houston students organized and ran the fifth-annual event. (Photo by Kacie Fromhart, UT Physicians)

Families with children stopped at the teddy bear clinic for their first order of business. Young children received a new stuffed bear at this station, and it kicked off the smiles. Volunteers walked children through the process of using a stethoscope to listen to the heart and lungs of the bears and make their visit to the doctor feel less scary.

“It was an absolute joy to see the eyes of a little girl light up when she realized that she could be just like the clinical staff and volunteers one day,” said Dwight Fan, co-director of the health fair and fourth-year medical student with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

Impact of no-cost screenings and community education

Dwight became a passionate advocate for equitable access to health care after his own exposure to the tremendous impact of health care inequalities in his family abroad. UTHealth Houston Cares became a major passion project and source of motivation for him.

“I joined the team as a co-director this year because I firmly believe in the impact the organization can make on Houston,” Dwight said. “Not because a single day of screening is the solution to health care inequality, but because information and empowerment ​can create lasting, ​meaningful change in the lives of our patients.”

Ruda Mohaweche, MD, an internist at the Jensen clinic, agrees about the power of community education and health maintenance.

“This fair will have a huge impact because people will learn we have these services available to them,” Mohaweche said. “I wanted to be involved because of my commitment to the clinic and the community.”

Serving nutrition needs

In addition to no-cost screenings and health care needs, the community event provided a bag of food to the first 24 families. A generous donation from The Cupboard, a UTHealth Houston School of Public Health food pantry for students and others in need, enabled food-insecure families to receive canned goods, rice, and fresh fruit. This gesture makes such a difference in the lives of those receiving the food.

Gretchen H. Walton, JD, MPH, director of The Cupboard and associate professor at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, was pleased The Cupboard could jump in to fulfill some nutrition needs.

“We understand how hard it is out there and make a point to help others in the community when we have that opportunity,” Walton said. “Our students are always on board and want to provide that assistance to the community. I can’t even imagine what others are going through.”

Educational resources, food bags, and no-cost screenings at student-run health fair
Visitors to the community health fair received educational resources in addition to no-cost screenings. The first 24 families also received a bag of food. (Photo by Kacie Fromhart, UT Physicians)

Getting to know the community

The Jensen clinic had a staff member from every role in the clinic attend the community health fair to get to know the families and show their representation. Sa’Misty Utley, LCSW, a senior social worker, sees patients in the clinic and serves their mental health needs.

“We know a lot about social determinants of health and how finances and environment can impact our mental health,” Utley said. “I help patients understand that the struggles they experience are normal and how can we help relieve that stress.”

Kaisly Ducasse, a community health worker II at the Jensen clinic, said she loves assisting patients with their health care needs.

“The health fair is such a great experience for the students to be there for our patients,” Ducasse said. “And it’s a chance to connect with families in the area and let them know we are here for their needs.”

Making a difference

Volunteering often provides as much joy to the individual as to the recipients of care. Hailey Kim, a fourth-year dental student and dental liaison for the event, agrees.

“Having the opportunity to volunteer at the health fair reminds me why I chose this field in the first place,” said Kim. “It’s nice to see people in the community taking their first steps toward their own health.”

One of the best testimonies of the day is when a man returned to the clinic with his educational materials still in his hand. Dwight said the team was initially perplexed when he re-entered, but overjoyed when he smiled and asked, “How soon until the next fair?” The team hopes to continue expanding its reach by increasing the frequency and impact of the fairs.

View photos from the health fair in the Flickr album.

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As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.