Photo courtesy of The Farmworkers Association of Apopka.

A clinic in Apopka created by UCF faculty allows students to collaborate and provide healthcare services to farmworkers who wouldn’t have access otherwise.

The clinic is a service learning opportunity, where students from different disciplines work together gaining real-world experience that will help them become more prepared entering the workforce, said Heather Peralta, Ph.D., a nurse and college of nursing faculty member.

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“I’ve seen a huge development across disciplines, they’re starting to talk to each other about each other’s scope of practice… they’re starting to see how each role is very important and we’re all part of a bigger puzzle to make healthcare work,” Peralta said.

Peralta saw the need for this clinic in her hometown of Apopka where many farmworkers are uninsured and can’t afford medical care. She and Doctor Judith Simms-Cendan, director of International Experiences at UCF and professor of obstetrics and gynecology, helped setup this clinic after medical missions to the Dominican Republic were cancelled due to the zika virus outbreak.

Over 80 faculty and student volunteers from the colleges of nursing, medicine, social work, physical therapy and University of Florida college of pharmacy, came together for the one-day event June 28, where they saw 126 patients, Peralta said. The clinic which was started in 2016, is held four times a year and has served over 500 patients so far. The next one is planned for some time in the fall, Peralta said.

“We’re just now starting to see patients return each time we do this and it’s really nice to be able to address them by name and to see their little ones growing. Especially with the political climate the way that it is, to know that they trust us means a lot,” Peralta said.

Peralta emphasized the importance of this type of clinic for students to start working together as a team from now, since this is something they will be doing after they graduate as they enter the workforce. In this type of setting they’re able to truly understand the community and build rapport with them, something that can’t be done in a hospital setting, she said.

Organizers are hoping that, with UCF’s reorganization and new interdisciplinary college that put all these fields under one umbrella, it will create lots of opportunities to do more work together and hopefully make it easier for students and staff to collaborate on these types of projects.

In 2017 they won a national award for their service in the community. The U.S. Public Health Service and Interprofessional Education Collaborative chose to award UCF, from among many others, their first Public Health Excellence in Interprofessional Education Collaboration Award, for their interdisciplinary work that significantly impacted the community, according to an organization press release.

“It opened our eyes to realize that actually what we’re doing is really special, we’re really helping people who otherwise couldn’t receive healthcare and I think this bolstered us to say let’s go on, let’s make this bigger and better, let’s perfect this. So that’s what we do, each time we try to make it bigger and better than the last,” Peralta said.

Peralta and Simms-Cendan would love to expand the project into other communities, however they’re limited by the funding they receive, as this is an all-volunteer project. Most of their funding comes from grants that they must apply for they also work with the UCF foundation.

“I think this is something that can be replicated at other universities I think it’s something that should be used more often because we have students that want to learn and faculty that want to teach and bringing everyone together like this in a way that serves a community is just absolutely beautiful and it’s exactly what learning should be. It should be experiential and transformative,” Peralta said.

To help out or learn more about the project, email project organizers Peralta or Simms-Cendan at Heather.Peralta@ucf.edu or Judith.Simms-Cendan@ucf.edu.