Health Fair No-Cost Screenings, Teddy Bear Clinic, Bring Smiles at Student-Led UTHealth Houston Cares Event

April 8, 2024

students who volunteered at UTHealth Houston Cares event group photo on Saturday, March 9, 2024.

Smiling children with teddy bears in tow were a common scene at the UTHealth Houston Cares health fair on Saturday, March 9. This no-cost community event, held for the fifth year at UT Physicians Multispecialty – Jensen, provided a warm and friendly environment for children and their families. It also offered UTHealth Houston students the opportunity to put their experience into action (with guidance from experts) and connect with the community.

Eighty-five students were in full force volunteering at the student-run event, which provided 126 no-cost screenings to individuals living in an area with limited access to health care. The screening stations focused on dental, vision, blood glucose, BMI, vital signs, and a nutrition demonstration.

Families with children stopped at the teddy bear clinic for their first order of business. Young children received a new stuffed bear at this station, and it kicked off the smiles. Volunteers walked children through the process of using a stethoscope to listen to the heart and lungs of the bears to make their visit to the doctor feel less scary.

“It was an absolute joy to see the eyes of a little girl light up when she realized that she could be just like the clinical staff and volunteers one day,” said Dwight Fan, co-director of the health fair and fourth-year medical student with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

Young children visited the teddy bear clinic at UTHealth Houston Cares and took home their newest stuffed friend. (Photo by Kacie Fromhart/UT Physicians)

Fan became a passionate advocate for equitable access to health care after his own exposure to the tremendous impact of health care inequalities in his family abroad. UTHealth Houston Cares became a major passion project and source of motivation for him.

“I joined the team as a co-director this year because I firmly believe in the impact the organization can make on Houston,” Fan said. “Not because a single day of screening is the solution to health care inequality, but because information and empowerment ?can create lasting, ?meaningful change in the lives of our patients.”

Ruda Mohaweche, MD, an internist at the Jensen clinic, agreed with Fan about the power of community education and health maintenance.

“This fair will have a huge impact because people will learn we have these services available to them,” Mohaweche said. “I wanted to be involved because of my commitment to the clinic and the community.”

In addition to no-cost screenings and health care needs, the community event provided a bag of food to the first 24 families. A generous donation from The Cupboard, a UTHealth Houston School of Public Health food pantry for students and others in need, enabled food-insecure families to receive canned goods, rice, and fresh fruit.

Gretchen H. Walton, JD, MPH, director of The Cupboard and associate professor at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, was pleased The Cupboard could assist.

“We understand how hard it is out there and make a point to help others in the community when we have that opportunity,” Walton said. “Our students are always on board and want to provide that assistance to the community.”

The Jensen clinic had a staff member from every role in the clinic attend the community health fair to get to know the families and show their representation. Sa’Misty Utley, MSW, a senior social worker, sees patients in the clinic and serves their mental health needs.

“We know a lot about social determinants of health and how finances and environment can impact our mental health,” Utley said. “I help patients understand that the struggles they experience are normal and how can we help relieve that stress.”

Kaisly Ducasse, a community health worker II at the Jensen clinic, said she loves assisting patients with their health care needs.

“The health fair is such a great experience for the students to be there for our patients,” Ducasse said. “And it’s a chance to connect with families in the area and let them know we are here for their needs.”

Volunteering often provides as much joy to the individual as to the recipients of care. Hailey Kim, a fourth-year dental student and dental liaison for the event, agrees.

“Having the opportunity to volunteer at the health fair reminds me why I chose this field in the first place,” said Kim. “It’s nice to see people in the community taking their first steps toward their own health.”

One of the best testimonies of the day is when a man returned to the clinic with his educational materials still in his hand. Fan said the team was initially perplexed when he re-entered, but overjoyed when he smiled and asked, “How soon until the next fair?” The team hopes to continue expanding its reach by increasing the frequency and impact of the fairs.

View photos from the health fair in the Flickr album.