People from across the country are travelling to Denver to see prized livestock, watch thrilling rodeos and sample excellent barbecue at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS). In the middle of all of the fanfare and festivities are students, faculty and staff from the Anschutz Medical Campus conducting free screenings to ensure the health of local and rural communities.

Matthew Steritz takes a blood pressure reading
Matthew Steritz, a second year graduate student, takes Erica Rivera’s blood pressure. Rivera, who is working at the NWSS, saw the booth as a prime opportunity to have her health assessed.

Staffing a booth at the NWSS is no small undertaking. Volunteers are on-hand from January 9-24 conducting screenings for body mass index, blood pressure, blood glucose, vision, balance and oral health. In addition the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences offers free flu shots on the weekends. Last year, 265 volunteers representing every school and college on CU Anschutz screened more than 1,400 adults and more than 700 children.

Cindy Johnson Armstrong, senior instructor for the physical therapy program in the CU Anschutz School of Medicine and the associate director of post professional programs for the Colorado AHEC Program Office, coordinates the effort along with her colleagues from Colorado AHEC. She sees the NWSS as a venue to give students hands-on experience while supporting a population that does not always have access to healthcare.

“Students come away with a much better appreciation of what it’s like to live in a rural environment and not have access to healthcare,” Armstrong said. “The nearest doctor might be 50 miles away. The nearest dentist might be 100 miles away.”

An additional benefit to the students, according to Barbara Weis, senior instructor in the College of Nursing, is that they are able to meet other CU Anschutz students and learn more about other disciplines. Weis has supervised student volunteers for the last five years at the NWSS.

“It’s very empowering for the students,” said Weis. “The students are learning and are able to educate patients. Often professionals in rural communities don’t have time for prevention and promotion, so we are able to help by doing that here.”

Screenings prepare students for their futures

Students who volunteer aren’t on their own. Licensed clinical faculty and staff oversee training and screenings. Volunteers follow a script to walk participants through the screenings and then explain the findings to them. If a follow-up is needed, volunteers provide participants with a list of referrals for their exact needs.

Paige Bennett and Barbara Weis
As a fourth-year medical student, Paige Bennett (left) is able to serve as a student supervisor at the NWSS. Barbara Weiss, faculty from the College of Nursing, volunteers several sessions as a supervising clinician.

“A part of the screening represents every discipline,” Armstrong said. “So it’s a good opportunity for them to step outside their comfort zone and learn about what other individuals do on a daily basis.”

Matthew Steritz, second-year graduate student in modern human anatomy program in the Cell and Developmental Biology Department, is volunteering at three sessions this year. He is using the experience as an opportunity to get face-to-face time with participants in preparation for medical school.

“I have a lot of fun with it,” Steritz said. “Since it is a voluntary health screening, the people that you are screening want to be here. The conversation is great.”

Paige Bennett, who has volunteered at the NWSS for the last three years, knows firsthand how important the screenings can be for attendees from rural areas, having grown up in rural communities in Colorado and Oklahoma.

“Being from a rural community, I know that having the opportunity to get a free screening for conditions where you might need to see a doctor is something people might only get here,” said Bennett, a fourth-year medical student in the rural track.