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Nursing students provide services at free rural health care clinic in eastern Tennessee

School of Nursing students keep busy at the 1,000th clinic offered by Remote Area Medical, with free services available to all, including dental, vision, women’s health exams and general medical care.

More than a thousand people came to the 1,000th free clinic offered by Remote Area Medical on a cold Feb. 3 morning in Knoxville, Tennessee, where volunteers ― including 10 students from Western Carolina University’s School of Nursing ― provided them with medical, dental and vision care.

“These students from community mental health nursing practicum class were up at 4 a.m. to take part in the clinical services,” said Elizabeth Sexton, WCU assistant professor of nursing and an excursion leader. “They got exposure to it all, from triaging patients, giving flu shots to helping in the dental and vision areas. They also got to see the big picture. For whatever reason, whether lack of health insurance, lack of resources, inadequate healthy nutrition, poor dental hygiene or substance abuse, the needy individuals were there and seeking help for dental, vision and medical problems, and so appreciative to receive it.”

Since 1985, Remote Area Medical, a nonprofit organization based in Rockford, Tennessee, has held mobile clinics for uninsured and underserved families and individuals, assisted by health care professionals and students. It has a mission to prevent pain and alleviate suffering and to enhance quality of life through the delivery of competent and compassionate health care to those who are impoverished, isolated and underserved in the U.S. The group was founded by Stan Brock, best known as a host alongside Marlin Perkins and sometimes Jim Fowler on the TV nature show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” from 1968 to 1974.

It was a humbling experience for WCU student Kara Osborne, of Advance, and one that she hopes others will experience. “I promise that you will gain so much more insight and respect for others, and understanding, than you could ever imagine,” she said. “I feel that serving these patients has allowed me to have a better understanding of the field of nursing. It was a pleasure to partner with other nurses and providers to provide high quality, compassionate care for these patients.”

The School of Nursing contingent at the recent Remote Area Medical clinic includes (front, from left) Lara Drew, Devyn Smith, Jordan Engel, Elizabeth Sexton, (back, from left) Shana Lambert, Tanner Koon, Jared Horton, Patricia Rade, Hailey Truluck, Kara Osborne, Libby Gutt and Cheryl Clark.

The community mental health course, which is taught by Sexton, includes a service-learning requirement that provides valuable experience for students as they meet people in their environment and see the challenges they face, she said. It also falls in line with WCU’s strategic plan in that it enhances external partnerships with an emphasis on integrated learning experiences. Transportation was provided by WCU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning with the loan of a van, while costs for overnight lodging were covered by the School of Nursing.

“I believe that Remote Area Medical is a great opportunity to serve the community and experience a different population outside of the hospital setting,” said Hailey Truluck of Mooresville. “It is such a blessing to see how everyone comes together at an event like this to serve and provide medical services to those who are in need.”

A fellow participating nursing student readily agreed. “My overall experience at the clinic was very positive, insightful and productive as it provided me with an opportunity for growth and development in both my practice and knowledge as a student nurse,” said Jordan Engel of Asheville. “I had the opportunity to be exposed to and see many different types of health care practices as well as different cultures and populations in Tennessee. It was wonderful to be able to serve the community in a way that impacted the health of individuals living there.”

By the end of three days, when the clinic closed, an estimated $883,456 in free medical care had been provided.

WCU’s School of Nursing is nationally ranked and accredited, with undergraduate and graduate programs at the main campus in Cullowhee, Biltmore Park instructional site in Asheville and online. For more information, go to the website

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