For Manatee Technical College optometric assisting instructor Loren Hutchison, volunteering at the Remote Area Medical clinic each year is like a reunion.
Since the clinic started at Manatee Technical College in 2015, Hutchison and dozens of other health care professionals have been helping underserved and uninsured individuals get dental, vision and medical services.
This year’s free RAM clinic is from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 12 and 6 a.m. to noon Oct. 13, and it serves on a first-come, first-served basis.
Hutchison said every year the clinic becomes easier to manage because volunteers return.
“They understand the groove of things,” she said. “We joke it’s like a reunion at RAM. We never get to see each other except that time of the year when we get together to do RAM. It’s a great networking and celebratory time for the volunteers who continue to come.”
Lakewood Ranch optometrist Ashley Masuga, who works at InFocus Family Eyecare and has volunteered at the clinic for the past three years, said it’s imperative to have a clinic available in every city “as long as they have the volunteers being able to provide the services” for those who need them.
Although many volunteers return year after year, Manatee Technical College’s Dental Assisting Program Director Kimberly Bland, who has dedicated time to the event since it started at the college, said the clinic has a very strong need for dentists and optometric providers.
Last year, about 20 licensed dentists not involved with Manatee Technical College or Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine volunteered at the clinic.
Bland said some dentists from other states will procure a special license to be able to practice at the clinic.
Bland said she would like to see at least 50 dentists provide services at the clinic.
“I’m just hoping our community dentists will come out in force this year and help these individuals that need help,” Bland said.
Hutchison said the clinic would like to serve more patients, but the number of providers limits the number of individuals who can receive services.
In the case of dentistry, because there aren’t many dentists volunteering, Bland said the clinic has had to cut off the growing volunteer list of dental assistants.
Masuga said working with other optometrists at the clinic is “a nice experience to feel like we’re all working together to really share that common mission for local people.”
Volunteering at the clinic is the “fun side” of their jobs, Hutchison said.
“When you’re working, you can have fun at work, but it’s still work,” she said. “We’re here because we want to be here, so you have that jubilant spirit of community giving. I think it’s a great experience for everyone who’s getting involved. It’s the ‘volunteer addiction,’ I call it.”
Bland said the clinic provides an opportunity for health care providers to see “the entire picture of the need of our community.”
“We’re so used to seeing the patients that have the ability to call on us,” Bland said. “We forget there’s a whole other part of the community who don’t come on a regular basis because they know they can’t pay for it. … We need to remember others fall through the cracks, and we may be the only answer for them.”