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Students Learn From Serving the Community in Bakersfield

The mission at UEI College is driving personal and community transformation by empowering students to make a positive and enduring life change. Medical Assistant students were recently given the opportunity to put these ideas into action as they volunteered to assist a Bakersfield-area community wellness organization in hosting a free COVID Clinic.

The mid-March event, hosted by the Dignity Health’s Community Wellness Program, provided free COVID-19 screenings as well as flu shots to low-income people living in the area. In Delano, an agricultural community, a large portion of this population is made up of migrant farm workers.

The community clinic was held on the grounds of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Delano. UEI students guided the administration of more than 100 COVID-19 tests and gave around 20 flu vaccines, all free for those who attended.

“This gave students a chance to actually feel what it is like to give back to patients and to help a community,” said Chris Martinez, Medical Assistant Program Instructor at UEI College in Bakersfield. “It gave them a little bit of a feel for what it’s going to be like in the field. Here in class, we can teach them this all day. Until they go out and experience it, they won’t get it.”

UEI Students Fill a Critical Community Need

UEI’s Bakersfield campus has a history of partnering with the Dignity Health’s Community Wellness Program, with Medical Assistant students often helping organizers administer free annual flu shots. The program provides approximately 1,000 flu shots per year in Kern County.

During the pandemic, however, community health needs have grown, as has the Community Wellness program’s need for volunteers to offer testing and preventative services.

“We’ve been asking for assistance from the students more this year than in past years,” said Romala Ramkissoo, Manager of the Dignity Health’s Community Wellness Program. “We’ve held more events out in the community than in the past, and we don’t have staff on-hand to handle big events. So, we’ve been reaching out to UEI to assist with those.”

The goal of Dignity Health’s Community Wellness Program is to provide preventative health education and preventative services, like health screenings and flu shots, to lower-income people in Kern County. The program targets uninsured and underinsured people in the area who have unmet health needs, including migrant workers and other disenfranchised populations.

According to Romala, the organization may be tasked to provide COVID-19 vaccines in the near future, though details have not yet been finalized. If approved and student volunteers can administer the vaccine, the program would likely need to call on UEI College for further assistance due to the overall demand.

“UEI’s been a great resource for us,” she said. “We would not be able to do these events without the partnership with UEI and its Medical Assistant program.”

A Real-World Educational Experience

Romala said she sees the partnership with UEI as a win-win for both organizations. The Dignity Health Community Wellness Program can offer services to more people, while UEI students earn valuable, hands-on experience.

“Dignity Health Mercy and Memorial Hospitals provides externship opportunities for students, and that’s good,” Romala said. “But, while we’re not part of the hospital itself providing patient care, our program allows students to get those hands-on experiences in the community itself.”

Chris agrees. He said the UEI Medical Assistant students who participated received valuable experience they’ll use during their careers.

“The educational value our students took away from this, more than anything, was learning to work with patients, customer service, and the act of serving the community,” he said. “The interpersonal experience gives students real-life training on working with patients. The bonus of this activity was being able to use their training and putting it into action.”

In Delano, UEI College students from the Bakersfield campus helped residents self-administer COVID-19 tests, which were then labeled, recorded and filed for each patient. Students also gave flu shots to those who needed them, and all attendees were offered food boxes for their families.

“I have to say, I had not anticipated how excited the students were until we debriefed after the event,” Chris said. “They were all so excited to talk about their individual experiences with the patients and working with Dignity Health and what they gained from the event. I could not have been prouder of them.”

Chris added the experience helped confirm with many students that they were indeed on the right career paths.

“Each of them said it gave them the confidence to know that what they have learned in class – the training they’ve gotten at the UEI campus – is the standard for care and education, and they felt a lot of relief they have been training and practicing correctly,” he said. “Each of the students said they felt very happy that they chose this field and couldn’t wait to get out in the field and go to work.”

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