Committed to care

School of Medicine alumni and students making a difference at local free medical clinics

When Todd Crump reflects on his more than 20 years at The Free Medical Clinic, he thinks about Rufus.

Crump was a medical student when he first met Rufus, who was a patient at Palmetto Health Richland. The two continued their relationship when Crump began volunteering at The Free Medical Clinic in 1997.

Soon their relationship progressed from provider and patient to friends. Crump would take the local homeless man grocery shopping. He’d take him for haircuts. And when Rufus passed away with no one to bury him, Crump helped with his final arrangements.  

Crump still puts flowers on his friend’s grave every year at Christmas.

Helping people like Rufus, who need health care, but have nowhere else to turn is what keeps Crump coming back to the clinic, which provides free health care services and medications to residents who earn at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty level.

“All of us who go into medicine do it because we want to help people and there isn’t a better way to do that than helping people who don’t have insurance,” Crump says.

After graduating from the School of Medicine in 1998 and completing a residency at Palmetto Health, Crump continued to volunteer at the clinic.

In 2002, Crump agreed to serve as medical director of The Free Medical Clinic for two years. That was 16 years ago. Crump still serves as medical director and routinely spends hours reviewing charts and providing medical oversight for clinic operations after he completes his shift in the emergency department at Lexington Medical Center.

Training ground

During his tenure, Crump has worked with countless volunteers from the University of South Carolina, including medical students, residents and faculty members. He hopes the experiences the volunteers have at The Free Medical Clinic will encourage them to keep volunteering regardless of where their careers take them.

“The School of Medicine has been great about getting volunteers to come down, and hopefully wherever graduates end up, they’ll volunteer at a free clinic in their community. It’s great that USC exposes students to opportunities like this,” Crump says.

Husband and wife Sean Grumbach and Jordan Cone are second-year medical students who have been volunteering at the clinic since they were undergraduates at Carolina. Grumbach graduated with a chemistry degree from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2016, and Cone earned a degree in public health from the Arnold School of Public Health in 2015.

The couple says their experiences at the clinic helped prepare them for medical school and exposed them to a different side of medicine.

The School of Medicine has been great about getting volunteers to come down, and hopefully wherever graduates end up, they’ll volunteer at a free clinic in their community.

Todd Crump

“Working at the clinic was really eye opening. I had a patient once who had a Ph.D. He said, ‘I don’t know how I ended up here, but thank you for taking care of me.’ It made me realize there are a lot of different people who need The Free Medical Clinic,” Cone says.  

Joseph Sturkie, a first-year student in the physician assistant program, also began volunteering at The Free Medical Clinic as an undergraduate. Like Cone, Sturkie graduated from the Arnold School of Public Health in 2015.

“One of my friends mentioned volunteering at the clinic, so I decided to check it out. It was really rewarding to be able to care for the patients and have them walk out with big smiles on their faces,” Sturkie says. “Volunteering at the clinic also gave me a leg up for PA school. I understand how to speak with patients and get their history.”

Grumbach says the clinic is a way for him to recharge when medical school becomes overwhelming.

“The whole training process as medical students can cause burnout, being able to come back to the clinic and volunteer helps you get back in touch with why you are going into medicine in the first place,” Grumbach says.

Making ends meet

In addition to supplying volunteers, the School of Medicine also helps support The Free Medical Clinic financially through its Black Tie White Coat Gala, an annual fundraising event started by the Class of 2002.

The gala provides tens of thousands of dollars to the clinic each year. This year’s gala will be held March 9 at the My Carolina Alumni Center. Tickets are still available.

“We often have people ask how they can support the clinic. I tell them to volunteer, attend events like the Black Tie White Coat Gala, donate or even host a paper goods drive at their church,” says Crump. “We don’t receive any federal dollars, so we rely on the community to keep the doors open.”

Crump says having limited resources can be challenging, but at the end of the day it’s all worth it.

“It’s fulfilling — the smiles, the hugs, the thank you notes — our patients are just so grateful that we are here for them,” Crump says.  

Good Samaritan Clinic

In addition to supporting The Free Medical Clinic, the School of Medicine also has had a significant impact on the Good Samaritan Clinic, an organization offering free health and dental care primarily to Hispanics in the community.

Chris Goodman, an internal medicine faculty member and 2010 graduate of the School of Medicine, serves as co-medical director of the clinics.

Goodman got involved when he was a medical student. After his residency, he returned and began volunteering again.

“Both The Free Medical Clinic and the Good Samaritan Clinic benefit from USC School of Medicine volunteers, whether students or volunteer physicians. The family medicine department in particular deserves recognition for their commitment to regularly sending out providers including exposing their residents to community needs through the clinics,” Goodman says.  

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