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New clinic reaches out to at-risk youth

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 04:12

 

In times of considerable hardship, a person should be able to turn to a professional whose expertise is matched only by their compassion.

A new clinic, operated by USF medical staff and students, is seeking to provide free essential medical services to at-risk populations.

Ybor Youth Clinic, which receives no funding from the university, offers family planning and sexual health services to adolescents and young adults.  

Terri Burger, a nurse practitioner for the youth clinic and the USF pediatric disease division, said the clinic assists those who have been historically underserved, such as homeless children or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. 

“Our role is a positive addition to the community,” she said. “We’re uniquely qualified to provide a service, which other health care services have failed to.”

The clinic administers a range of family planning services to patients, including birth control, pregnancy tests, gynecological exams and pap smears testing for cervical cancer. 

The largest service is the prevention, treatment and management of sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. 

Burger said the clinic promotes understanding and acceptance, which is often lacking in clinical settings. She said the youth she treats are often unable to afford health care or are ashamed to seek treatment.

“Some kids have parents who won’t let them seek help,” she said. “Some kids don’t have parents at all.”

Jeremiah Kerr, an outreach community coordinator at the clinic and medical researcher at USF, said it’s important to raise awareness of where to seek help.

“The community is happy we’re here,” he said. “And we’re happy to be a part of the community.”

The clinic has also networked with local organizations. They requested Hillsborough County schools and medical agencies refer patients in need of further HIV treatment to the clinic.

“We’re here, the kids are there and the schools are in the middle,” she said. “The kids shouldn’t need to find us on their own.”

Kerr said they also take a hands-on approach. The clinic coordinates fundraisers with USF student groups, such as PRIDE Alliance, an LGBT organization. Staffers also walk the Ybor streets at night, handing out fliers to the nightlife, he said.

“We’re in Ybor because we wanted to meet youth where they are,” he said. 

The clinic is funded by private donations from the community and medical networks. Rooms of the clinic are named after donators of an initial fundraiser. 

Burger said the clinic was founded last October to keep HIV patients in treatment after leaving the Children’s Medical Center at USF.

The clinic works with medical students undergoing their residency programs, allowing students and teachers to work side by side.

Patrick Blackburn, a third-year USF medical student who volunteers at the clinic, said he is interested in the health of at-risk youth, especially within the LGBT community.

“December is HIV awareness month, and I’m interested in talking to youth about the different preventative measures and being healthy while still living their lives,” he said.

Blackburn said USF medical teachers openly discuss sexual health and teach compassion when treating HIV-infected patients.

Compassion is an important aspect of the doctor patient relationship, especially when it comes to sexual health, said Burger. 

“A doctor needs to develop a trust with their patients before they are willing to share confidential information,” she said. “When the kids walk in these doors, they feel accepted. They trust us to take care of them regardless of whatever their needs are.”

The clinic was designed to create a welcoming atmosphere, Kerr said. The clinic is styled with minimalistic decor, and the painting hung in the lobby is an homage to Keith Haring, an artist who died of AIDS-related complications.

“The whole idea is to create a comfortable environment for both youth and young adults to come to,” he said. “Other pediatric clinics have building blocks and giraffe paintings, but we don’t want to baby our patients.”

The clinic also offers confidential counseling for any topic relating to sexual health, and Burger said family health directly affects family stability. 

“The best way to end poverty is to plan families,” she said. “We’re here for education. We care about you, and we want to help you.”

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