Volunteers from the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership gathered Aug. 18 at Clarke Middle School to provide free sports physicals to Clarke County School District athletes who otherwise may not be able to receive one. Without this exam, students are ineligible to participate in team sports.
It is not uncommon for many student athletes across Athens to be uninsured, underinsured or unable to afford a physical exam. Over 90 percent of the 720 students attending Clarke Middle School receive either free or reduced lunch.
Dr. Suzanne Lester, assistant professor at the AU/UGA Medical Partnership, and Kelli Bivins, a teacher at Coile Middle School, became aware of this problem five years ago and brainstormed a way they could help. At the time, the Medical Partnership was in its infancy and the medical students were looking for ways to become involved in the Athens community.
“Students put in a ton of effort to get their grades up so they can play sports, and then they often cannot get a sports physical because they are uninsured,” said Lester. “Not only are these physicals a benefit to the middle school students, but they also give our medical students early experiences in delivering patient care and a way to learn about the areas they are serving.”
Lester works with the medical students and the athletic directors at local schools to plan a day for free sports physicals for both the fall and spring semesters. Medical students set up stations for height and weight checks, blood pressure monitoring and vision screenings, then work with Medical Partnership faculty members and volunteer residents from Piedmont Athens Regional and the AU/UGA Medical Partnership Residency Program at St. Mary’s to provide the exam. This past Saturday volunteers saw 39 students, but they have seen up to 90 at one event.
Not only does this program allow middle school students to meet the requirements for a sports physical, but it also demonstrates potential career paths. “This event serves as an opportunity for the middle school students to see a diverse group of young doctors and realize that they also have the opportunity to be a physician, or work in health care related field one day,” Lester said.
When speaking about her experience, second-year medical student Kendall Flanigan said, “Medical school can be consuming at times, and often as students, I think we forget the reason we’re studying as hard as we do — to one day serve people in our communities. I truly believe that children who are encouraged to genuinely enjoy sports and other kinds of physical activity can grow up to be healthier, happier adults, and from that, everyone wins.”