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Student-run health clinic fills critical need for foot care

Rosie Booker took a bus, then walked to the Health Resource Center Foot Health Clinic at St. Anthony's Food Pantry in south St. Louis.

She understands the need to take care of her feet because she's often walking to go shopping or to appointments. Besides, she said, "walking is good for you."

At the clinic, St. Louis University medical student Jackson Toth took good care of her feet, with basic foot washing and evaluation, nail clipping and callous sanding. He laughed with her about her ticklishness and adjusted accordingly. When Booker had questions he couldn't answer, he referred her to Dr. Howard Place.

Place, a professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Division of Spinal Deformity and Reconstructive Spine Surgery at St. Louis University School of Medicine, checked whether her shoes were the right size by drawing an outline of her foot, then placing her shoe over it. Her shoes were the proper fit, he told her, but she needed to examine her other shoes. The physician also addressed her concerns about diabetes.

Since 1994, St. Louis University School of Medicine students and physicians have provided free health care in an academic environment. SLU's Health Resource Center offers eight free clinic sessions to meet patients' needs, with the primary clinic on North Kingshighway Avenue open on Saturdays. The clinic is student-run, with a physician present during clinic hours.

Celina Wong, one of four co-directors of the Health Resource Center, oversees and helps at the foot clinic. A second-year medical student, she recruits the volunteers.

"I have a big passion for serving underserved populations," Wong said. "That's why I wanted to become a physician in the first place, to serve in a clinic for low-income communities. This is a very rewarding thing for me to give back while I'm learning at the same time."

A San Diego native, she belongs to a nondenominational Christian church and said her faith in God influences her passion for serving and showing love to others. She's "super-happy" at SLU and noted that the faculty "push us to become better physicians and better people as well. ... And I love that they give us opportunities to volunteer, time to give back to the community and opportunities to have leadership positions."

Wong told of a patient who had a muscle-tendon-joint issue in her foot. She was referred to the primary clinic and connected to physical therapy students who helped her walk normally again.

"That patient was absolutely grateful, and it was a big reminder of why we're doing this" Wong said. "It felt like we are making a difference in the community."

Place, the physician overseeing the clinic, said foot issues are a critical need. St. Anthony's is a perfect partner, providing consistent clients in a good location year-round, he added. 

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