The principle at the heart of the work of the Student Health Coalition (SHC) held that quality health care required the voice of the people. Students operationalized this principle by helping small rural communities to organize around access to health care.
Stepping into these communities was facilitated by the fact that most residents lived in a vacuum of services, a complete absence of accessible health care, neither private nor public. Children were not immunized. Diabetes, high blood pressure, pulmonary disease were left undiagnosed and untreated. The nearest hospital might be hours away. Roads were subject to impassible disrepair. Clinics were no where to be seen, nor were public health officials. The proposal that students and community leaders working together might change all that was radical and thrilling.
Health Fairs were at the heart of the organizing. The fairs took place in a school or community center. Student nurses and physicians conducted comprehensive free exams for anyone who showed up. Funds to support the fairs were recruited from foundations. The Tennessee Valley Association (TVA) loaned a van for the first few summers, outfitted with lab equipment and exam rooms. The exams included hematocrits, urine screens, stool culture for parasites, throat cultures, and a full physical exam. People with abnormal results got a home visit from one of the students, with assistance on followup. Most children were anemic, from poor nutrition or parasites or both. Most miners had lung disease. Many adults were found to have untreated heart disease or diabetes.
The Health Fair team moved to a new community at the end of each week. At the end of the summer, most students returned to school. A handful stayed behind, digging into long term work. The Health Fairs and the clinics that were the “fruits” of our labors uncovered dirty secrets about the adequacy of health in Appalachia and the rural South. SHC challenged and angered local health departments, physicians, county judges, and the like.
Nonetheless, many of those clinics still stand. And in some cases, they grew into networks of clinics serving whole regions with community owned and operated primary care clinics.
A sampling of vignettes that illustrate activities and aspirations of the SHC in striving to reinvent primary health care in Appalachia and the rural South. For all oral and written narratives related to this theme, click here. For a complete catalogue of clips across all three themes, visit “Stories”.
Joe Little shares his perspective on the impetus behind the establishment of the Center for Health Services, based on his own recollection and from his deep dive into the archives. Toward the end of this clip, he also briefly touches… Continued
Dick Burr delves into more detail about the community worker’s role with the Student Health Coalition, namely as it relates to the operation and success of health fairs. Full footage of Dick Burr’s interview from March 25th, 2021. Continued
Pete Moss, who at the time of his involvement with early SHC health fairs (1970) was Vanderbilt’s Chief Resident of Pediatrics, discusses what drew him to the Coalition: the opportunity to mentor students and influence their pursuits in the medical… Continued
As part of the Student Health Coalition Archive Project, Caryl Carpenter and Rick Davidson meet with James Lovett, CEO of Mountain People’s Health Councils, Inc. Their primary objective is to collect a firsthand account from Lovett and in so doing,… Continued
Bob Hartmann shares about his return to Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) after graduating from Vanderbilt medical school and explains the role of the National Health Service Corps in his education and early professional development. Full footage of Bob… Continued
Caryl Carpenter, Rick Davidson, and Irwin Venick meet with Kate and J.W. Bradley to discuss the Petros health fair and community clinic. They list several of the early players involved with both, including Wanda and Gary Lang, Bob Hartmann, John… Continued
Nancy Raybin discusses her onboarding and role as the Director of the St. Charles Clinic from 1974 to 1976, a period during which she hired Polly McClanahan as the clinic’s Nurse Practitioner (NP), recruited Art Van Zee as the clinic’s… Continued
Art Van Zee discusses how the legacy of St. Charles Clinic may serve as inspiration to students today, and encourages them to harness a belief that they, too, should feel empowered to get involved in social movements. Recorded March 17th,… Continued
Profiles of several individuals and organizations, among many, whose work with the Student Health Coalition was centered on reinventing primary health care in Appalachia and the rural South. A listing of all SHC profiles can be found under “People”.
Amos Christie received his M.D. from the University of California. In 1943, he arrived at Vanderbilt University as Chair of the Department of Pediatrics. During his time at Vanderbilt, he studied histoplasmosis, a fungal disease simulating tuberculosis, and received a… Continued
Art Van Zee, during his Internal Medicine Residency at Vanderbilt, served as a mentor for Coalition students in 1974 and 1975 when the health fairs were active in St. Charles and other southwest Virginia sites. He was very taken by… Continued
Contributed by Bill Corr, September 2015 I am forever indebted to the Vanderbilt Student Health Coalition because my involvement put me on a career path that has enriched my life and given me the opportunity to serve our nation’s health… Continued
Bill Dow co-founded the Student Health Coalition while in medical school at Vanderbilt University, in 1969. His larger-than-life role in the SHC origin story and beyond warrants special telling, which we attempt in the essay that follows. Contributed by Margaret… Continued
Upon reaching East Tennessee in 1969-70, SHC community workers immediately encountered Black Lung Disease (Pneumoconiosis). For years, the SHC engaged Black Lung Disease on several levels: medical diagnosis and treatment; representation for federal benefits claims; and organizing for reform of… Continued
Contributed by John E. Davis When the newly recruited medical workers and community workers of the Student Health Coalition gathered in Nashville in June 1970, beginning a week of orientation for the SHC’s second summer in Appalachia, they were introduced… Continued
Contributed by Cathy Barrow Heck I was absolutely sold on the Appalachian Student Health Coalition upon seeing the video as a nursing student in the fall of 1973. The idea of a team of students working in partnership with rural… Continued
Related Content: Continued
A selection of initiatives, organizations, and other developments that grew from seeds planted or causes championed by the SHC. A complete catalogue of materials related to various outcomes of the SHC experience can be found under “Legacy”.