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Coyote Clinic reaches ten-year milestone

Oct 29, 2016 08:19PM ● By MED Magazine

By Peter Carrels

A free public clinic in downtown Sioux Falls staffed by medical students from the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine is celebrating its tenth year of service.

Coyote Clinic, located at 300 N. Dakota Avenue, offers fee-free consults and care by students with oversight by volunteer physicians.  The clinic facility is operated by Avera Health, and is run as a regular clinic during daytime hours. Coyote Clinic opens its doors two Tuesday evenings each month. Avera donates use of the clinic space, as well as contributes two on-site nurses, a receptionist, and a clinical manager to the student-run enterprise.

The clinic offers medical students an opportunity to engage in hands-on practice. Older students mentor younger students, and established physicians serve as ultimate decision-makers in all cases. Patients are encouraged to call the clinic and make an appointment, as the 12 appointments available during the two hours the clinic is open during each evening session are often taken.  The clinic also offers Spanish interpreters, as some 40 percent of the patients speak Spanish, and cannot speak English.

Student leaders decided earlier this year to double the clinic’s hours, from one Tuesday evening to two Tuesday evenings per month. This provides more opportunities for more students to work with more patients, and also provides for better continuum of care.

Third-year medical student Courtnee Heyduk is part of the steering committee that manages the clinic. She is elated at the recent schedule expansion.  “Students gain valuable experience here,” she explained, “but our patients also benefit.”  Because of the expanded schedule Heyduk described students working in the clinic are better able to track the impact of medications, and they can judge the progress of a patient following an initial exam. 

For many medical students Coyote Clinic offers their first opportunity to interview and assess a patient. On a Tuesday night in late September first-year student Taylor Den Hartog was preparing to see his first-ever patient. “I do have butterflies,” Den Hartog admitted. “I’ve barely started medical school, and here I am getting ready to meet a real patient.” 

 Moments later Den Hartog and third-year student Sarvesh Kaushk entered the exam room accompanied by a Spanish interpreter. Not only would this be Den Hartog’s first patient, the interaction between the student and patient would be complicated by the fact that the patient cannot speak English.

Fifteen minutes later the two students emerged and Den Hartog provided limited information about the patient, to protect her privacy. But he smiled and described his first patient experience as satisfactory.  Fellow student Kaushik praised Den Hartog’s performance. “I am impressed.” said Kaushik, “He handled himself very well.” 

The two students then went to another room to consult about the patient with Dr. Kevin Whittle, a Sioux Falls physician who volunteers his time to help at the clinic.  Whittle uses the conversation to not only guide the patient’s treatment and prognosis, but to teach the students about their profession.

Coyote Clinic successfully blends public service and experience-based training for medical students, and after ten years this combination of benefits seems as relevant and meaningful as ever.