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Bridging the gap: Rallying resources to mend relationships with individuals livings in shelters through education and empowerment

Last Updated: October 11, 2022


The advancement of infrastructure within the Columbus community, such as the expansion of hospitals and apartment buildings, has contributed to the gentrification that has unfairly displaced many individuals. We became increasingly aware of the juxtaposition of pursuing medical training with the goal of providing holistic care, while systemic inequities deepen disparities in health care accessibility, restricting vulnerable populations from engaging fairly within healthcare systems. Previous studies have shown that individuals within the homeless community present with more advanced skin conditions due to environmental and nutritional factors as well as delays in time-of-disease-onset to time-of-treatment.1 To best understand the needs of the population we aspired to serve, we partnered with the YWCA Columbus shelter and conducted a brief survey to determine potential gaps in healthcare knowledge and existing barriers in accessibility. Through this survey, we learned that many of the shelter residents did not have reliable transportation, cellular phones or access to general health care. Many of the women and children expressed desires to learn more about their hair, nails and skin as well as their reproductive health. This knowledge motivated us, as M3s from The Ohio State University College of Medicine, to establish the Unhoused Community Advocacy and Networking (U-CAN) women’s shelter initiative. This official Ohio State Organization utilized community engagement to empower unhoused individuals through implementing primary prevention programs focused on various healthcare topics including skin, breast and reproductive health. We utilized pre-existing relationships with Ohio State Wexner Medical Center physicians and faculty to acquire free donations and resources from the OSU Dermatology department, Women’s Dermatologic Society and Ohio State Breast center. Over the course of a year, we implemented three service events that served over 200+ women and children by providing food, hygiene products, sunscreen, and primary prevention health education workshops and hangouts to equip shelter individuals with the support and resources to take charge of their health care. Furthermore, by having physicians and nurses at service events, progress was made towards mending the historic imbalance between healthcare providers and individuals living below the poverty line. By establishing as an official Ohio State organization, we were able to apply for funding to increase the breadth and longevity of communities served. Furthermore, we were able to create a pipeline for other medical students to build connections and network early in their careers with physician mentors passionate about healthcare advocacy. Through providing medical students with early experience engaging with a variety of diverse populations, we aspire to foster the creation of a future workforce that is conscious of societal and structural barriers to health accessibility and motivated to act as agents for change.

1. Gingras V, Bonato L, Messier V, et al. Impact of macronutrient content of meals on postprandial glucose control in the context of closed‐loop insulin delivery: A randomized cross‐over study. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2018;20(11):2695-2699. doi:10.1111/dom.13445 


Abena Minta, BS, The Ohio State University College of Medicine (Abena.Minta@osumc.edu)
Taborah Z. Zaramo, BS, The Ohio State University College of Medicine