A few weeks into their first semester at University of the Incarnate Word’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, the 162 students in UIW’s inaugural class were paired up with 27 families from the Southside Independent School District.
For the next two years, the medical students will visit or call the parents, grandparents and students every two weeks. The goal is to help the families improve their health in a part of the region that has some of the worst health outcomes in San Antonio.
At the same time, the medical students are also there to learn from the families about the challenges they face due to poverty, said Dr. Anil Mangla, director of public health at UIW’s new medical school.
“It’s not the end when a patient comes to your facility or your clinic and leaves. It goes beyond that clinic,” Mangla said. “How do you address someone who has no access to care? How do you address someone who cannot pay for their medication? What alternatives are there? And this is their role into identifying those avenues for these families. So when they really become practitioners, it’s going to be a complete different generation of providers, where they’re going to understand what the families are going through.”
So far the medical students have visited their adopted Southside ISD families about three times. Mangla said it’s been an eye-opening experience for many.
“One of the (med students) came to me just a few weeks ago, saying ‘I’ve lived in San Antonio all my life and I’ve never seen the Southside. And now when I see a Southside family I can’t even believe this is San Antonio,’ ” said Mangla, who previously worked for the city’s Metropolitan Health District.
Southside ISD Superintendent Mark Eads said the program is also reaping unexpected benefits for his district. For instance, the med students are becoming role models.
“We had a mother that basically just broke down and said, ‘I never dreamed that my child could be a doctor, but my child can be a doctor,’ ” Eads said.
The medical students are also visiting Southside High School or Matthey Middle School every other week to observe the school nurses.
Eads said the school nurse is the primary care provider for many of his students. He sees the partnership with UIW as part of an effort to address his students’ needs outside of school. The idea is that when students are healthy and full they’re more likely to be in school, where they can learn.
Southside ISD is one of three school districts in the San Antonio area who have had state interventions in the last year. The Texas Education Agency replaced Southside’s elected board with an appointed board in May.
Mangla said UIW chose to work with Southside ISD because it’s located in an area with poor health outcomes, including an almost 15 year shorter life expectancy than North San Antonio.