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Ohio State receives national award for Columbus Free Clinic

Student-run clinic provides critical care to underserved communities

For the fifth time, The Ohio State University has been named as a regional winner of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). The award recognizes extraordinary community engagement initiatives among public four-year universities nationwide.

Ohio State received the award for its work with the Columbus Free Clinic (CFC). Seeking to address unmet healthcare needs, Ohio State launched the student-run clinic more than 30 years ago to provide critical care to underserved adults in the Columbus community.

“The Columbus Free Clinic is an outstanding example of Ohio State’s community-engaged scholarship,” said Ryan Schmiesing, Ohio State’s senior vice provost for external engagement. “The knowledge and skills students develop while working at the clinic and the care the patients receive have a long-lasting impact on our communities.”

Since 2007, APLU and the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, have partnered to recognize universities’ engagement scholarship and partnerships. The award recognizes programs that demonstrate how universities have deepened their community partnerships to achieve broader impacts in their communities, said APLU President Mark Becker.

“Community engagement is a critical part of public universities’ mission, and we’re pleased to highlight the work of institutions that are engaging communities to solve challenges,” he said. “From the underserved areas of their communities and states to overlooked regions of the world, public research universities are engaging communities to solve the most pressing problems they face.”

Each year, 400 Ohio State students volunteer for the Columbus Free Clinic.Each year, 400 Ohio State students volunteer for the CFC, developing knowledge and skills in patient care and community engagement while assisting in providing community healthcare. The CFC is a partnership between Ohio State faculty, students, patients and community organizations that the university supports through donations of clinic space, laboratory and radiology testing, and prescription medications.

“For the community, we are a one-stop shop. You can get your lab tests done, you can get your prescriptions all at one place,” said Jackiethia Butsch, senior outreach coordinator in Ohio State’s Office of Community and Civic Engagement, Department of Health Equity. “We really focus on identity and integrity and we really meet people where they’re at.”

In 2022, the CFC had 10,168 hours of volunteer service, 3,045 free patient visits, 2,588 free prescriptions and more than 400 community encounters for health education or screening.

Receiving national recognition once again “helps to show that other people recognize the great work we do,” said Robert Cooper, Ohio State’s faculty advisor for the CFC. “I think sometimes we’re the best-kept secret. And it is a great pat on our back that we’re doing the right things right.”

A student steering committee from four different colleges manages the clinic. Each week, under the supervision of volunteer licensed faculty from five Ohio State professional schools, students in medicine, advanced practice nursing, social work, pharmacy and a team of undergraduates collaborate in practicing integrated primary care. Their work includes treatment of acute and chronic health conditions, laboratory services, pharmacy, social services and behavioral health.            

“Our students do a lot of work and don’t always get the recognition,” Cooper said. “I think it’s nice that their work is validated.”

As a regional award winner, Ohio State will compete for the national C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award, which will be announced in November and comes with a $20,000 prize. Other finalists for the award are North Carolina State University, the University of Pittsburgh and Texas A&M University.

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