HEALING HANDS: SOCKs Trainees Providing Free Health Screenings to Nashville's Homeless Population

Jonathan Dallas and Jaims Lim have a passion for serving Nashville’s most vulnerable population.

The two Vanderbilt medical students and SOCKs research trainees work in their spare time with Project Heal, a service-oriented Vanderbilt undergraduate group.

In an effort to expand Project Heal’s service footprint, Dallas and Lim have helped organize and lead a group of students that have been providing free, basic health screenings to members of Nashville’s homeless population.  

“The reason for starting this initiative stems from our desire to serve the socioeconomically disadvantaged with some of the skills we have been learning or learned throughout medical school,” said Lim. “Having grown up in an underprivileged environment as a child, I wanted to create something not necessarily directly school-sponsored or supported that we can do to serve.”

The free health screenings have been targeted toward people staying at the Nashville Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter in the city. Dallas and Lim measure things like blood glucose, blood pressure and BMI levels and counsel each patient on basic steps they can take to improve their overall health.

Dallas said they are hoping to identify ways that they can address the systemic problems faced by the homeless and socioeconomically depressed populations.

“While there is a generalized understanding that decreased health literacy and poor access to healthcare leads to worse outcomes and higher disease rates, relatively little is done to fix this problem, or even identify the specifics of it in the first place,” said Dallas. “By gathering and spreading information about the health literacy status of one of Nashville's more vulnerable populations, it would be our goal to help tailor approaches to fixing these issues.”

The clinics have helped identify several patients with harmful and even life-threatening health issues. And with those patients having little to no access to primary care providers, many times they have no idea that they need to be seeking help. Within the first few clinics, Dallas said that three patients were advised to go to a local emergency department because of either severe hyperglycemia or acute-onset, focal neurological problems.

“There are a number of poor outcomes encountered among homeless individuals that can be partially avoided with simple health screenings and lifestyle changes,” Dallas said.

Dallas and Lim hope to expand the free health clinics during their medical school career and leave a lasting impact.

“Ultimately, we would like to expand this into a research project that characterizes the overall health status and the health literacy of Nashville’s homeless population and looks for potential areas of improvement,” said Dallas. “But this is still in early stages.”