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School of Medicine Greenville


Medical students offer healthy meals and coaching via Greenville Free Clinic

garden projectDecember 13, 2018

Medical students at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville have volunteered at the Greenville Free Clinic for several years now. Recently though, due to an idea sparked by second-year student Hallie Weems, groups of students have started partnering with individual families to provide healthy meals and advice for effective lifestyle changes.

Hallie said she kept meeting patients who had preventable diseases such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension. The patients said that they lacked the knowledge to make proper nutritional decisions, and so Weems put together a meal project concept that she shared with the clinic. Paula Thomas, a health educator at the clinic, oversees the program.

The purpose of the program is to educate the individuals in such a way that they are equipped to impact change for themselves and their families. So far, a group of approximately 10 students have met with five families on a weekly basis.

“The family that I meet with, they signed up for this to save their kids from the health complications that they’re now experiencing as adults,” said second-year student Dillion Isaac.

The students bring a prepared, plant-based healthy meal, including options like vegetable soup, sweet potato-based macaroni and cheese and a quinoa, corn and black bean casserole. They spend about an hour of time together discussing ways to incorporate lifestyle changes, such as different exercise options, healthier food substitutes and better snack ideas. They also share struggles, and most importantly, their victories in making impactful changes. One family shared with Dillion how they’ve started incorporating quinoa and other whole grains into their diet. Per Paula, some participants are experiencing lower blood pressure and lower A1Cs.

For the holidays, donations were collected from the students, faculty and staff at the medical school to provide each of the children in these families with a Christmas gift. Though, similar to the enabling theme of the whole program, the gifts will be shared with the parents first, who will then be tasked with the actual present delivery.

“The whole program is about empowerment. You know, empowerment to take control of your own health,” said Hallie.

The students involved, and the medical school overall, stress the importance of coming alongside communities and listening to their needs, versus a traditional top-down health system model. First-year student Irraj Iftikhar said for her the project is “mutually beneficial” because of the joy and community she’s experienced through the program.

This project is representative of the school’s vision to “cultivate a culture of curiosity and commitment to others to transform the health and wellness of communities.” For those interested in contributing a tax-free donation to the project, please contact Susan Ward (wardese@greenvillemed.sc.edu; 864-455-7902).