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A Weekend in Wise

‌The sun has barely risen over the small Appalachian town of Wise, Virginia, where Virginia Commonwealth University senior Staci Fraley is already two hours into her day preparing for the Remote Area Medical clinic. Soon, the gates will open and more than 2,000 people desperate for medical and dental care will pour through the Wise County Fairgrounds entrance. The patients, many of whom slept in the parking lot overnight to ensure a spot in line, will wait for hours in the dusty heat to be seen for overdue health problems in animal-stalls-turned-exam rooms and behind bedsheets pinned to barn rafters.

“I couldn’t express enough the thanks these people have for us,” Fraley said. “Some of them have never seen a doctor. It is monumental for them to receive this care.”

The 21-year-old nursing student knows firsthand the value that clinics like this provide for medically underserved and impoverished communities. Fraley is from Big Stone Gap, a small southwestern Virginia town about 20 miles from Wise. During her childhood, Fraley’s grandparents would travel to the clinic at Wise every summer for annual doctor and dental visits.

“I am glad I could come back and provide care for people where I’m from,” Fraley said.

Volunteers from VCU have worked at the pop-up clinic in Wise for 18 years. This year more than 100 students and faculty from the schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy volunteered.

For students like Fraley, the clinic is an opportunity to bring the health care expertise she has acquired in school back home. For others, the clinic provides a glimpse of the chronic health conditions faced by millions of Americans who lack insurance and can’t afford basic medical and dental care.

“The goal is to get students out where they are needed most,” said Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M.D., associate professor of family medicine and population health at VCU School of Medicine. “The more they see how beneficial it is to work in an area of great need, the more likely they are to choose to work in a similar area after graduating.”

Read the full VCU Exposure story.