After seeing the dental patient she assisted smile in the mirror and beam with confidence, Nydia Kung knew she found the right community at Ohio State.
Kung, a third-year in neuroscience, is a member of Remote Area Medical OSU, a student organization that aims to provide low-income and uninsured people in remote locations with free medical, dental and vision care by volunteering at mobile clinics across the country.
RAM OSU is a subset of the national nonprofit organization, where about 800,000 individuals have received more than $135 million of free health care, according to the organization’s website.
“It’s just a super awesome cause, especially in today’s day and age where a lot of people are lacking basic health care needs and health care insurance,” Jack Xiao, a second-year in neuroscience and president and founder of RAM OSU, said. “[RAM] provides a service for the people who may not ever be able to get it.”
Xiao said the group tries to volunteer at two or three clinics each semester, which are typically located in rural Appalachian areas and take place over the span of a weekend.
Yvanna Reyes, a first-year in neuroscience and member of RAM OSU, said she and fellow volunteers work for about 12 hours a day on each trip, doing everything from registering patients to helping optometrists make glasses.
Many students in RAM OSU are interested in pursuing a medical career, and Reyes said the hands-on experience is a great way to develop their passions for medicine.
“Being so young, we don’t really have any jurisdiction in something that’s so important, like we don’t have the skills of a doctor or dentist,” Reyes said. “So when we go to these things, it’s just a learning experience, and you can only hope that your presence can benefit the [patients].”
Xiao said the national RAM organization recruits both medical professionals and community volunteers to ensure that everything runs smoothly and people get the care they need.
“I think a lot of the professionals I’ve talked to, they really appreciate the opportunity as well to give back and use something they’ve trained years and years to perfect to give back to the community that helped put them where they are today,” Xiao said.
Kung said that one of the reasons the mobile clinics are important is because the United States has the most expensive health care among developed countries, which often makes it difficult for low-income people to access medical resources.
According to a Harvard study, researchers compared data from 11 high-income countries from 2013-16 and found that the U.S. spends almost twice as much on health care costs but has worse access to care and worse health outcomes than other developed countries.
“Going on the past trip, it was just crazy to see that a lot of these patients, this is the first they’ve ever seen a doctor before in like 10 or more years,” Kung said. “That just shows that we really need to make this care more accessible to people.”
Xiao said part of the reason that mobile clinics are so crucial for many individuals is due to the notion in the U.S. that health care is a privilege rather than a right.
“[Health insurance] is similar to how you view other types of insurance, like house insurance. You decide whether you want to buy it; it’s your risk that you’re taking,” Xiao said. “I think that’s a dangerous train of thought when it comes to health because I personally don’t think the life of a human being is equivalent to a house or having home insurance.”
Although there is a need for free health care in places like Appalachia, Reyes said it can be problematic to think that rural areas are the only locations in the U.S. that have populations that lack access to health care.
Both Reyes and Kung said there are many impoverished people found around the campus area, and that there are people in need throughout the U.S. and not just in remote locations.
Although RAM OSU’s main goal is volunteering at and raising funds for the mobile clinics, Xiao said they are looking into the possibility of bringing a clinic to Columbus in the future to provide central Ohioans with greater access to often lifesaving care.
“Everything that we do for our club, it’s amazing for our students, it’s great experience,” Xiao said. “But at the end of the day, it’s 20 times more helpful for the communities we’re helping.”