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Where passion and learning connect

Volunteers in Medicine teaser
Alumna Nina Smith, ’04, juggles two roles at Volunteers in Medicine, a healthcare clinic that provides free medical services to Jacksonville’s working uninsured.

In her role as clinical director, nurse practitioner Smith treats patients and oversees services provided. In her teaching role, as a UNF faculty member, Smith has the equally challenging task of turning novices into expert practitioners.

Smith’s dual role is part of a longtime partnership between Volunteers In Medicine and the University of North Florida that affords students real-world experience to help meet their clinical rotation requirements. Nurse practitioner students depend on professionals like Smith to serve as preceptors for their needed medical training. On a typical day, Smith is either being shadowed by students or shadowing them, based on their stage in the program.

“The students come from the classroom, where they’ve learned the skills needed to assess changes associated with disease or injury, and turn that knowledge into practical experience,” Smith said. “So essentially they learn to be a working nurse practitioner here.”

Dr. Lillia Loriz, UNF professor and director of the School of Nursing, has served on the clinic’s board from the beginning. “The clinic really offers a great service to the community,” Loriz said. “There are a lot of working people who don’t have insurance. Some are working two jobs just to make ends meet. Our students are getting practical experience, yet they’re also providing a much-needed service.”

Volunteers in Medicine, established by co-founders James Burt, M.D., and Dottie Dorion, RN, MS, opened its doors in 2003. Funded totally with donations, the clinic is run by a 90-percent volunteer staff comprising retired and active primary care practitioners, medical specialists, nurses, pharmacists and office staff. Together with the volunteers, Smith and medical director Dr. Victoria Findley handle more than 420 patient visits each month and provide at least $5 in medical services for every $1 donated.

Yet the clinic also functions as a training ground for area students. In addition to nurse practitioners, UNF sends nursing and nutrition students to the clinic. Nursing students assist with patients and work on research projects that measure patient outcomes, such as monitoring progress of diabetic patients. Nutrition students provide one-on-one nutritional counseling that often improves health outcomes for patients. Overall, students benefit from working with a variety of volunteer medical professionals who bring a breadth of experience to the clinic.

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that has flourished, according to Mary Pat Corrigan, Volunteer in Medicine’s CEO. “A true partnership has to be good for us and good for UNF, and we have certainly been blessed to experience that level of collaboration,” Corrigan said. “The students gain experience, and we benefit from the vitality they bring. We both continually look to see how we can continue to grow our partnership.”