Remote Area Medical Opens Chapter At Penn State

Alex Bourcier and Kyle McIlroy led a small group of fellow Penn State students on a trip to volunteer at a clinic in Charleston, West Virginia a year ago. The trip, however, didn’t start out as smoothly as they had hoped. 

Based on the clearances they had obtained, the students weren’t allowed to drive to the clinic themselves. So after working a 12-hour shift at her hospital, their driver — Penn State medical student Jackie Heath — set out from Penn State Hershey to pick the group up and begin their shared journey to Charleston.

Unfortunately, her car broke down on her way to pick up Bourcier, McIlroy, and the six other undergraduates, so the group had to drive to meet her. Once her car had been towed, Heath drove them the rest of the way to West Virginia. The students finally reached Charleston at 3 a.m. and needed to make it to the clinic by 5 a.m.

The group then worked at the clinic until 6 p.m. that night before getting to rest, but McIlroy said it was all worth it.

“Every single person at these clinics is genuinely thankful,” McIlroy said. “It’s humbling.”

Since that first bumpy trip, the duo has officially created a chapter of Remote Area Medical (RAM) at Penn State. RAM is an organization that provides mobile medical services at local clinics to those in need of healthcare.

“It’s been evolving ever since,” McIlroy said. “Just by [Bourcier] and I sitting there one day and bouncing ideas off of each other, and then eventually having us now standing in front of 150 students for our first meeting not even a year later is an amazing feeling.”

The group took its second trip to Ohio last spring, and more than 1,000 people received treatment while they volunteered at the clinic.

“Each RAM clinic can provide anywhere between $500,000 and $1,000,000 of free health care to people — for some of the bigger ones,” McIlroy said. “But even just being able to provide free vision care and free glasses can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Students are assigned a specific task at each clinic based on their training and certifications. The sites of the clinics can vary from high schools to shopping malls, but each clinic will have different divisions, like medical, dental, and vision.

Senior Matt Driban, an executive board member in charge of doctor outreach, volunteered on the second clinic trip to Ohio, and emphasizes the value in these clinic trips for Penn State undergraduates.

“We want to give our club members valuable medical volunteering experience because that’s really important,” Driban said. “A lot of these kids are thinking about going to medical school, and philanthropically, it’s a nice thing to do. It’s really helping a lot of people.”

Along with making RAM a permanent fixture at Penn State, McIlroy sees two major goals in the club’s future. First, start an annual clinic in Pennsylvania led by RAM.

“My current big project is [starting a] PA clinic,” McIlroy said. “I think that will really help establish Pennsylvania as a spot that wants to host RAM clinics. And once one county hosts it, I think others will want to too.”

McIlroy’s second goal is to change a restrictive Pennsylvania law, which prohibits doctors without a license to practice medicine in Pennsylvania from volunteering at free clinics in the Commonwealth.

“There’s currently legislation in place that makes it very difficult for doctors from outside of Pennsylvania to volunteer their time in Pennsylvania — that’s not just for RAM, that’s for everything. That’s silly,” McIlroy said. “If doctors want to volunteer their time to help people, they should absolutely be able to do it. The world and Pennsylvania would be a better place that way.”

Remote Area Medical is dedicated to providing accessible healthcare to those who need it most.

“Everybody who came through, in one form or another, really needed the help,” McIlroy said. “To be able to have them shake your hand and thank you from the bottom of their hearts is just really cool.”

The club also provides a unique alternative experience for students who are hoping to go into medicine, but might otherwise participate in international volunteering trips. RAM’s trips cost students virtually nothing, especially in comparison to traveling abroad to provide similar service.

“It’s basically Global Brigades, but it’s ‘local’ Brigades,” McIlroy said.

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About the Author

Navin Zachariah

Navin is just your average Dallas Cowboys fan from "right outside of Philly." A biology major, Navin hopes to one day cure the Cowboys of Jason Garrett. He is one of the select few who actually like The Chainsmokers. And if you see someone who looks exactly like him around campus, it could actually be his identical twin brother. Navin always trusts the process. Feel free to contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @nzach3.

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