[Ari Friedman/The Daily Pennsylvanian] College junior Max Smith (left) pricks the finger of Med student Jonathan Dunkman (right) to measure his cholesterol level as College of General Studies student Kinnari Chandriani looks on at the United Comm

At about 6 p.m. on a Monday evening a burgundy, 15-seater van pulls up to the intersection of 42nd and Girard streets, and a group of Penn students files out, laughing about free beer and class schedules.

But the moment the students step through the doors of the First African Presbyterian Church, the joking stops and their conversations shift from University life to the lives of the patients they are about to care for.

As volunteers at the United Community Clinic -- an independent, student-run medical facility -- these students provide free basic medical care to local residents every Monday from 6 to 9 p.m.

The clinic celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, adding a slate of new services including cholesterol testing and a nutrition clinic.

The clinic also offers physical examinations, HIV testing, vaccinations and screenings for high blood pressure.

Much of what the clinic provides, however, is guidance.

"It's a good opportunity to educate people," Penn medical student and clinic Education Coordinator Amy Williams says.

Though any Penn student can volunteer at the clinic, this year's group is made up mostly of student from the schools of Nursing, Social Policy and Practice and Medicine.

Volunteers say the diversity of backgrounds benefits everyone involved.

"The Nursing students know more than [us Med students] do at this point," Med Student Coordinator Lauren Marlowe says, "So they teach us a lot."

Visitors tend to be pleased with the service, as well.

"This place beats the free clinic," says Annette, a visitor waiting for her cousin's physical, which he needs for a job, to be finished. "I have insurance now, but I wish I'd known about this earlier when I didn't."

And even though the services the clinic provides are basic, it is worth it "not to have to wait 12 hours," Annette says.

Responses like this one and word of mouth allow the clinic to keep a steady flow of patients without having to advertise, Marlowe said. Students aim to treat about 15 patients per night.

The clinic is "in the culture of the neighborhood," Marlowe says.

But Annette added that although she lived across the street from the clinic several years ago, she was not aware that it existed at the time.

Completely independent of the University, the clinic receives grants from Bryn Mawr Church and the American Association of Medical Colleges. It uses its funding for rent, medical supplies, test strips, an annual health fair and medical prescriptions from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania pharmacy.

After Annette's cousin finishes the physical, the night winds down and the remaining two patients are seen while College junior Max Smith tests volunteers' cholesterol levels for practice.

Finally the group packs up its supplies, and once the students walk out the doors of the clinic, conversations shift away from medicine and back to student life.

Marlowe points to the van's clock from the driver's seat.

"We're going to make it back in time for 24," he says.

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