The principle at the heart of the work of the Student Health Coalition (SHC) held that quality health care required the voice of the people. Students operationalized this principle by helping small rural communities to organize around access to health care.

Stepping into these communities was facilitated by the fact that most residents lived in a vacuum of services, a complete absence of accessible health care, neither private nor public. Children were not immunized. Diabetes, high blood pressure, pulmonary disease were left undiagnosed and untreated. The nearest hospital might be hours away. Roads were subject to impassible disrepair. Clinics were no where to be seen, nor were public health officials. The proposal that students and community leaders working together might change all that was radical and thrilling.

Health Fairs were at the heart of the organizing. The fairs took place in a school or community center. Student nurses and physicians conducted comprehensive free exams for anyone who showed up. Funds to support the fairs were recruited from foundations. The Tennessee Valley Association (TVA) loaned a van for the first few summers, outfitted with lab equipment and exam rooms. The exams included hematocrits, urine screens, stool culture for parasites, throat cultures, and a full physical exam. People with abnormal results got a home visit from one of the students, with assistance on followup. Most children were anemic, from poor nutrition or parasites or both. Most miners had lung disease. Many adults were found to have untreated heart disease or diabetes.

The Health Fair team moved to a new community at the end of each week. At the end of the summer, most students returned to school. A handful stayed behind, digging into long term work. The Health Fairs and the clinics that were the “fruits” of our labors uncovered dirty secrets about the adequacy of health in Appalachia and the rural south. SHC challenged and angered local health departments, physicians, county judges, and the like.

Nonetheless, many of those clinics still stand. And in some cases, they grew into networks of clinics serving whole regions with community owned and operated primary care clinics.

 

Stories:

A sampling of vignettes that illustrate activities and aspirations of the SHC in striving to reinvent primary health Care in Appalachia and the rural South. (For a complete catalogue of oral and written narratives on the website, go to “Stories.”)

Nurse Practitioners, in the beginning…

Posted 3 years ago

Community leaders recognized early on the added value that expanded role nurses brought to the table.  In this video clip, community leaders Marie Cirillo and Betty Anderson recollect their efforts to lobby for legal changes that would support expanded role nurses.

SHC goes to West Tennessee in 1973

Posted 3 years ago

Dana Ellis discusses how she got involved and her experience with the first Student Health Coalition cohort to visit communities in West Tennessee in 1973.

Tom John in brevis

Posted 4 years ago

An interview with Dr. Tom John, recorded by Margaret Ecker, 2013.

 

People:

Profiles of several individuals, among many, whose work with the Student Health Coalition was centered on reinventing primary health Care in Appalachia and the rural South. (A listing of all SHC profiles can be found under “People.”)

  • Dana Ellis: Personal reflections

    In this video clip, Dana Ellis reflects on her personal experiences as a student nurse working with community leaders in rural west Tennessee back in the early 1970s and how that work affected her career and her life.

  • Carolyn Burr Reflects

    Interview with Carolyn Burr, recorded at a 2013 Student Health Coalition reunion in Nashville, Tennessee. In this clip, Burr reflects on how the experience of working with the Coalition shaped her values and future career in nursing.

  • Lewis Lefkowitz

    [Contributed by Richard Davidson, October 2015] Lewis Lefkowitz was born in Dallas, Texas in December, 1930. He attended the University of Texas Southwestern medical school, did an internship at Duke University and finished his internal medicine residency at the VA … Continued

  • Byrd Duncan

    Profile: Contributed by: ___ When the newly recruited medical workers and community workers of the Student Health Coalition gathered in Nashville in June 1970, beginning a week of orientation for the SHC’s second summer in Appalachia, they were introduced to … Continued

  • Richard Davidson, M.D., M.P.H.

    Richard Davidson was born in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1947. He attended Vanderbilt undergraduate and medical schools, and did a residency in internal medicine there as well. During the summer of his second year in medical school (1970) he was … Continued

Outcomes:

A selection of initiatives, organizations, and developments that grew from seeds planted or causes championed by the SHC. (A complete catalogue of materials related to various outcomes of the SHC experience can be found under “Legacy.”)

Notes from the road: Mountain People’s Health Councils

Posted 2 years ago

Written by Caryl Carpenter On October 23rd, in 2017, a doctor, a lawyer, an archivist, and an old lady started out to make history, or more accurately, to record history – the history of Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) in … Continued

Connecting the dots: from SHC to ACA

Posted 3 years ago

In 2013, just as the Affordable Care Act was about to get rolled out, Bill Corr took time out of his busy schedule as Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services to reflect on the resonance between the Coalition work of forty years ago and … Continued

1976 St. Charles Health Clinic, VA

Posted 3 years ago

After the 1975 health fair In St. Charles, Virginia, the local health council worked tirelessly to build a permanent clinic. By 1976, that clinic had opened to the public. And over time, it grew into a network of 12 regional … Continued