Medical students take to the streets to give free care to Detroit's homeless

Members of Detroit Street Care attending to a homeless patient on the street.

(CNN)Armed with care packages, clothes and clinical supplies, medical students in Detroit are learning outside the classroom. They are putting their knowledge and boots to the pavement, providing free health care to the city's homeless.

Each week, students under the supervision of a registered physician or nurse practitioner get on their bikes and look for those in need.
"One of the first experiences I had in the world of street medicine was with a young man who had gotten into an accident and broken his arm," said Ellie Small, a second-year med student at Michigan State University and president of Detroit Street Care. "He was put into a cast the day before, though nobody had seen to the road-rash that covered half of his forehead and the side of one of his legs."
Small and a group of volunteers went to work removing the dirt, stones and debris from the grateful patient's wounds.
    It's a job that Small describes as making "invisible people visible."

    Working eye-to-eye

    The medical students treat wounds, check vital signs and provide patients with blood pressure medicine, insulin and antibiotics. Perhaps more importantly, they connect with people experiencing homelessness on a personal level.
    "You're seeing them in their home, whatever that home might look like. We teach all our volunteers to be eye level with patients. If your patient is sitting on the ground, you need to sit on the ground. It goes a long way for their comfort," said Small. "We need to realize what's most important medically might not be the most important thing in their life at that current time. That's unique to this population. We always ask about someone's housing status."
    Programs such as Michigan State University's Detroit Street Care, Wayne State University's Street Medicine Detroit and the University of Michigan's Wolverine Street Medicine work together to treat as many of the city's homeless as possible.
    According to the Homeless Action Network of Detroit in 2018, there were over 10,000 people experiencing homelessness in the city.
    Members of the programs compare notes on patients and map out routes to ensure all pockets of the city are covered. They also host clinics at shelters and work with organizations to place people in housing whenever they are ready.
    Jamie Wojahn, Director of Homeless Recovery Services at the Neighborhood Service Organization, says programs like these are crucial to the homeless population.
    "If it wasn't for all these schools and all these volunteers, there would be so many more people dying. They are giving vaccines on the streets to people who haven't had vaccines in several years. They give a lot of basic medical needs to people who have diabetes and hypertension that have been unaddressed for years."