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Spring 2022
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Public Health in Practice: Student Health Action Coalition Aims to Meet Local Health Needs

article summary

The nation's oldest student-run health clinic provides health care and support services to local residents.

Gillings experts and students are engaging in practice that makes a difference locally, nationally and globally.

The oldest student-run free health clinic in the country, the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC) brings together UNC students from across several disciplines to provide care for underserved populations in the Triangle. Founded by a small group of medical students in 1967, SHAC is run entirely by student volunteers and serves more than 500 local patients annually, providing a range of services that include basic medical care, dental care, mental health services and social work services.

Once a week for more than 50 years, SHAC’s medical and dental clinics have provided services to patients who couldn’t otherwise afford care. Student leaders have established newer initiatives such as Mental Health, Gender Affirming Care, Bridge to Care and SHAC XYZ (a free STI testing program) to address emerging community needs. Through SHAC’s outreach programs, volunteers go into the community to provide blood pressure and blood sugar monitoring, lifestyle modification counseling and other services, while social needs navigators work with patients from a more holistic approach, providing support to address food insecurity, safe housing, financial assistance, mental health, transportation or insurance. 

“I think the fact that it’s run by students lets us be a little more nimble than larger institutions or organizations,” says MD-PhD student Caleb Easterly, who is in his second year as chief community relations officer (CCRO) at SHAC and is studying health policy and management at Gillings. As part of his work to maintain and strengthen SHAC’s relationships with patients and the surrounding community, he’s creating a patient feedback form and a patient advisory board. “Part of how I see my role as CCRO is to fight to make sure that the care we offer at SHAC is as good, if not better, than what people might get elsewhere, and this requires constantly reflecting on how we’re doing and how we can do better.”

SHAC partners:

  • School of Medicine
  • School of Nursing
  • School of Pharmacy
  • School of Dentistry
  • School of Public Health
  • School of Social Work
  • School of Business
  • Division of Physical Therapy (Department of Allied Health Sciences)
  • Division of Occupational Therapy (Department of Allied Health Sciences)
  • Division of Speech and Language Pathology (Department of Allied Health Sciences)