Carle Illinois College of Medicine students are helping meet the healthcare needs of hundreds of patients in east central Illinois at the Carle Illinois student-run clinic and getting an exceptional hands-on learning experience in the process.

The student-run clinic treated a record number of patients from July 2020 to December 2020. The team of medical students logged over 500 patient visits under the direct supervision of licensed medical providers.

The clinic offers Carle Illinois students unique direct clinical learning experiences many medical students do not receive until later in their medical school training. “Several schools will certainly offer clinical experience, but not like ours, and certainly not at the early point that we attempt to get our students into the clinic,” said Dr. Kristine Carpenter, Carle Illinois clinical teaching associate professor.

That “early point” begins during medical students’ second year at Carle Illinois. Students start an 18-month family practice clerkship in the clinic working one night per week, seeing one or two patients per night. The early clinical exposure is part of the Carle Illinois approach to medical education. “My personal philosophy in working with students is they really need to do it on their own to learn it,” said Dr. Carpenter.

The student-run clinic focuses on family medicine, with typical visits ranging from annual wellness exams and newborn screenings, to acute ailments not requiring emergency care. Students do not see patients who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

The impact of the opportunity is evident to Carle Illinois students. “By seeing more and more patients, we learn the varying presentations possible for each medical condition. This is why it has been so valuable for us to start early in the medical school program,” said Kenny Leung, third-year medical student at Carle Illinois.

Putting their education into practice, students like Leung review a patient’s health history and take vital signs before performing a patient evaluation and interview. Students then consult with a licensed healthcare provider who also examines the patient. Dr. Carpenter said she and other preceptors ensure patient safety, but the student is in the driver’s seat. “They get time to talk with their preceptor, think through the problem, and come up with a solution on their own. So, they are taking ownership of that patient and the treatment plan,” said Dr. Carpenter.

Each visit takes about an hour, giving patients more time with providers. “That is really great for our patients, because it’s helping them to have better access to care,” said Dr. Carpenter.

Patient feedback has been positive, and some patients return for follow-up. “I was surprised at how excited I felt the first time I had a repeat patient,” said second-year student Katy Stauffer. “It was really meaningful to be able to create a bond with this patient over multiple weeks and be able to have that follow-up and closure.”

Students staff the clinic from 6-7:30 pm, Monday – Thursday. The evening hours offer convenience for patients who are unable to schedule appointments during daytime hours.

The student-run Carle Illinois Clinic is located at 1701 West Curtis Road in Champaign. To make an appointment, you can call Carle Health’s main scheduling number at (217) 383-3311.

*The video embedded in this article was filmed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic