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Penn nursing and graduate students provided free health services to West Philadelphia residents. (File Photo)

Credit: Khristian Monterroso

This past weekend, a number of Penn students went out into the West Philly community in order to provide services to others. Many returned with the realization that the community had provided a great service to them.

On Saturday, Penn Nursing and the Graduate Student Organization put on a free health fair for the West Philadelphia community at Harrity Elementary School. The students, who came from the School of Social Policy and Practice, the Nursing, Medical and Dental schools, provided a variety of health services with the help of the Sayre Health Center.

The School of Nursing and the Medical School led vital sign checks and physical assessments. While the community benefited from the free health care at the fair, the students and professionals who volunteered also gained something in return. They said participating in the fair was good for practicing their skills in a supervised environment. The fair was set up so that undergraduate Nursing students could take patients’ blood pressure and other vitals, as graduate students acted as mentors and were able to “walk them through it,” Nursing grad student Tracy Kwan said.

“Undergrad students were thanking us for letting them take blood pressure and check vitals,” she added.

Kwan, who was also the event coordinator, said over 200 people attended this year’s third annual fair. Attendance was “really great compared to the previous year,” Kwan said, as they made revisions to last year’s fair, including moving it from a Sunday to a Saturday, in order to maximize fair attendance and increase their outreach efforts.

Kwan and other members of the GSO board felt that their outreach efforts this year were better than previous years. Their outreach program focused primarily on “flyering everywhere,” according to GSO co-president Kylee Deterding, “from SEPTA stations to churches to alcohol stores.”

In addition to providing immediate health care to the community, education was a key component of this year’s fair. Skeleton and heart models were present as volunteers taught community members about the intricacies of the body to ensure proper health upkeep. “People are very grateful [for the education] and willing to embrace the information,” Deterding said.

Organizers set up coloring stations in which children were able to keep busy while learning about the body parts that they colored. SP2 volunteers taught community members about stress and stress management. “A lot of people learned a lot of different things about their health and how to stay healthy,” Dental School volunteer Elite Mekel said.

Organizers were especially proud of the way the fair was able to connect community members to further health care when needed. Sayre Health Center played a crucial role in allowing this to happen. “Sayre’s been integrated so that people who don’t have access have somewhere to go,” Deterding said.

“That was the purpose of the health fair,” Kwan said, “to help identify people in need and kind of link them with the community so that they have the assistance to prevent the disease from progressing.” Medical School volunteer Abby Robinson was also pleased to see that “people were linked to care very well.”

“If they weren’t able to get the proper care at the fair, then they were referred to where they would be able to get care,” Robinson said.

The fair was an eye-opening experience for many of the volunteers and organizers. “I really enjoyed just getting to a different part of Philadelphia that I’m not used to traveling to,” Robinson said. Women’s Health Nursing volunteer Hadja Diallo felt that “going out into West Philly and targeting a specific community” was very beneficial for her career as a health care provider in the long run. Mekel added that the fair allowed her “to see some other things that you don’t get to see in the regular clinic.”

While many volunteers expressed satisfaction with the event, Kwan reflected on its original goals. “I really hope the community benefited from this,” she said.

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