On an October Sunday, as a crowd of people maneuvered through a maze of tables in search of their next stop, Nevan McCabe stood on the sidelines of a transformed campus gymnasium beaming. His “baby,” the first 9Health Fair ever held on the CU Denver campus, was a bustling success, attracting more than 150 people, a welcome reward for McCabe and his fellow students who worked diligently since July to make it happen.
McCabe first envisioned the event last spring, when he volunteered at one of the more than 130 9Health Fairs across the state to gain experience drawing blood. “I was hearing a lot of testimonials from patients who had had huge life changes and life-saving experiences,” said McCabe, a CU Denver pre-health student. “So I thought, ‘Why don’t we have one of these?’ It just seemed obvious.”
Selling his idea was the easy part. McCabe, vice president of the student group CU Denver Future Doctors, had his fellow officers and adviser, Charles Ferguson, PhD, convinced almost before he finished his pitch. One reason for the easy bite, said Ferguson: The idea captures his chief message to his students.
“One of the big pushes in health care today is helping students learn how to work collaboratively and understand that medicine has to be about serving the community. It’s not just about the technical aspects of healing. It’s about understanding culture. It’s about understanding the barriers that people have to getting adequate healthcare. They need to do things for people because it’s the right thing to do, not just because it strengthens their application.”
A student and neighborhood boon
Since its launch, the project has been student-led, and most of Sunday’s 80 volunteers filling the PE Event Center gymnasium were also pre-health students given “first dibs” on positions. “The medical field is starting to rotate toward a more public health-centric mindset of preventing disease instead of just treating it, and the 9Health Fair is all about public health,” McCabe said, explaining the student benefit. An Aurora native who somehow finds time for regular workouts, climbing 14ers, playing the guitar and, most recently, learning the tricks of latte art, McCabe hopes to attend the CU School of Medicine on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and become an orthopedic surgeon.
Health care professionals from CU Anschutz were represented among the volunteers, as Kevin Deane, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine, and his team offered a rheumatoid arthritis screening.
As youngsters bared their arms for flu shots and opened their mouths for dental exams, McCabe explained the decision to include children in the fair. The campus has a relatively large nontraditional-student population with families, he said, and a significant number of area neighborhood families struggle financially. “We found that from Colfax and Speer to Colfax and Federal, the average income for a family of four was $20,000,” McCabe said.
While most of the fair services are free, a few, such as the comprehensive blood test, which looks for indictors of everything from thyroid issues to heart disease, have fees. So the students added fund-raising to their long list of preparation, so that they could offer testing to some families at no charge. Marketing was also a big focus, with the group canvassing the campus and neighborhoods, dropping off flyers in English and Spanish.
Only the beginning
After all of the tables were put away and the fair-goers long gone, the students’ work wasn’t done. “It’s just beginning,” McCabe said. Quest Diagnostics, which volunteers its services for all of the 9Health Fair blood-testing, will send the students itemized data, which the students will forward to public-health researchers. Among other things, screenings included diabetes, oral health, body mass index, vitamin-D levels, and colon, skin and prostate cancers, which will help researchers study health disparities in the region.
Also, so that the project doesn’t die when he graduates, McCabe and the student group will continue their documentation for future students, so that the fair becomes an annual event. “We’ve created a huge master list online detailing everything we’ve done,” he said. “This way, they don’t have to re-create the wheel every time.”
Ferguson definitely envisions McCabe’s brainchild enduring. “Nevan gets the gold medal for the idea; he and his team have worked really hard. But the whole campus community just stepped right up,” he said, noting that student and staff volunteers from across campus, not just CU, have made big contributions, including from Facilities Services and the Health Center at Auraria. “9Health Fair was really excited about it, too, because they have always wanted to have something in this area. It’s been an amazing experience.”
Gazing at the big turnout Sunday, McCabe couldn’t help smiling. “It’s not just me. It takes a whole team of people. But the idea that I could even get the ball rolling on something like this that impacts a whole community in such a great way is amazing,” McCabe said. “There’s no better way to serve people than by educating them about their health. It’s kind of my baby. I’m really proud of this.”
Guest contributor: Deb Melani