Published: Aug. 28, 2018

Detroit Street Care turns MSU students into physicians for homeless

Contact(s): Caroline Brooks Communications and Brand Strategy office: 517-432-0920

Students from Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine are leaving the classroom for hands-on work in Detroit through Detroit Street Care, an outreach activity focused on helping the homeless in Detroit. 

Through the program, medical students at the college’s Detroit Medical Center site offer clinical care to the city's homeless population with supervision from MSU physicians Richard Bryce and Mary Jo Voelpel.

"Affordable, clean housing in the city of Detroit and healthcare is really a critical, critical problem. There are over 10,000 homeless, and they don't have an adequate education. They don't have an adequate infrastructure to support them, and so we face challenges every day," Voelpel said.

Detroit Street Care enables students to use the knowledge they have learned in the classroom to engage and practice medicine on real life patients. To date, nearly 250 MSU medical students have participated in Detroit Street Care.

“This is a chance for me to get out and actually help people, and to apply what we learn to people who live just a block down the road,” Allison Jennens, a second-year student and the President of Detroit Street Care, said.

Students have 100 hours of coursework before they are able to begin the program. Detroit Street Care educates students and allows them to interact with homeless patients one-on-one, see diseases and treat chronic issues that they would not typically see.

According to Voelpel, a big part of the program is educating students to understand what they are seeing so that they are able to diagnose similar cases in the future.

Detroit Street Care represents the college’s mission statement to reach communities in need of health assistance. 

“A truly good physician is a physician who is involved in their community. You can't teach students this concept unless they see it and have a role model to follow,” Voelpel said. “Our role to help mankind when they are at the absolute bottom, and the more people who step up to the plate, recognize problems and begin to help in a real way, the faster we're going be able to resolve some of these serious issues.” 

The program sees a breadth of patients who have been displaced and proves to be an eye-opening experience on both heath and humanity.

“This is not about people who are on drugs who don't care. The majority of the people have become homeless and displaced because of real serious financial problems that happened that were beyond their control and comprehension. And so, if we take little steps towards rectifying all of these areas, you know in the next 10 years we're going to look back and see huge changes. And it's so rewarding,” Voelpel said. 

Many medical students learn one of the most critical parts of a doctor-patient relationship, communicating with patients. 

"A big part of the learning, and of the treatment and management of patients, is that we can sit and listen. We can look them in the eye and show them that there's someone who is going to hear what their problems are,” Voelpel said. “And the students have found that if they just sit there calmly and give patients a chance to talk, that they'll unfold a lot of problems that they have. And many of them are very relieved by the fact that someone actually sat and listened to them and heard what their problems are." 

The Detroit Street Care program also gives medical students opportunities to see diseases and conditions they would not see otherwise.

"I was thinking about what Dr. Voelpel said about treating them on their level, talking to them as a human being, and that's one of the main osteopathic tenets — to treat the body, mind and soul," Jennen said. "And so that's what we do here. And they have health issues upon financial issues upon social issues and we're here to listen and treat them as best we can."

For more information, listen to the MSU Today podcast interview or see Detroit Street Care.