UCF College of Medicine students unveiled their free KNIGHTS (Keeping Neighbors In Good Health Through Service) Clinic at Orlando’s Grace Medical Home Tuesday and heard from one of its uninsured patients, “For some reason, God put a medical school up the road at UCF. You students are going to make a difference.”

The free clinic is open one night a month, helping Grace Medical Home ease its waiting list of patients needing care. Students hope to increase their hours to twice a month and ultimately have the clinic open once a week. About 50 M.D. students staff the clinic and handle all operational duties, from checking in and escorting patients to exam rooms to drawing their blood for lab work. They take patient histories, conduct physical exams, determine diagnoses and provide treatment under the direct supervision of volunteer physicians from the College of Medicine. They also provide ongoing medical education to patients about taking their prescriptions and making healthy lifestyle changes.  Grace Medical Home physicians and staff partner with to the students, covering care of the patients if needed during times outside the KNIGHTS Clinic. So far the students have seen almost two dozen patients ranging in age from 19 to 64.

Tuesday’s open house coincided with Grace Medical Home’s third-year anniversary. The facility has enrolled 2,000 uninsured patients, who live below 200 percent of the nation’s poverty line, since it opened in May 2010. As a medical home, Grace’s approach is to provide a hub or home base where a patient’s medical history is known and their care is coordinated. Teams of physicians and other healthcare providers work together and share information to provide a comprehensive approach to primary care.

Third-year medical student Mike Arnold of Cocoa Beach is one of the leaders of the KNIGHTS Clinic. He and others provided tours of the facility Tuesday and explained how caring for uninsured patients helps students appreciate the impact of poverty on health and the challenges of maintaining a healthy lifestyle with limited income for food, lodging and medical care. The clinic provides teams of medical students for each patient – a more experienced third- or fourth-year M.D. student with an undergraduate student in their first or second year. “Teaching is a great way to learn,” Arnold said. “When upperclassmen can teach underclassmen, it’s a great learning tool.”

The Diebel Legacy Fund at the Community Foundation of Central Florida provided $10,000 to cover start-up costs for the free clinic.

Students are seeing patients with a variety of ailments, from injuries like broken bones and sprained ankles to chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. One recent KNIGHTS Clinic patient hadn’t been to a doctor in 20 years. Dr. Dr. Marvin Hardy, medical director of Grace Medical Home, said that about one-fourth of Orange County’s population is uninsured. Students participating in the KNIGHTS Clinic “have that passion for taking care of those in need,” he said. “Now we can see more of the uninsured.”

One of those patients is Frank Coar, who called himself “a recipient of grace” at Tuesday’s open house. Five years ago, Coar left a career in corporate America to start his own high-tech business. But when the economy faltered, his business closed. He faced health insurance premiums of $1,200 a month – for insurance that wouldn’t cover his pre-existing heart disease and diabetes. He talked about watching the news about the new College of Medicine and UCF’s focus on partnership and collaboration and wondered how both would impact this community. “My story is not unique,” he said of his need for medical care. “For some reason, God put a medical school up the road at UCF. You students are going to make a difference.”

Patient education is a big part of making that difference. Students provide information to patients on subjects including weight loss, exercise, planning healthier meals and smoking cessation. Two of those educators are first-year medical students Page Druce and Scott Furer. Before coming to medical school, Pace was a pediatric nutritional educator. Scott taught elementary school students with dyslexia. They say some patients are afraid to talk to a doctor about their unhealthy lifestyles. Some are too intimidated to ask questions. Page and Scott say such patients find it easier to talk to a medical student and the two physicians-in-training encourage even the smallest progress. “We’re their marching band,” Scott says. “Page and I are both driven to patient education because it’s really the human part of medicine. It’s about connecting with patients and helping them make better changes for themselves.”