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On Saturday, September 30, we helped organize and participated in the annual health fair put on by the United Asian American Medical Student Association (UAAMSA) for the medically underserved Asian-American population of southeast Michigan. For over 14 years, this population of patients has gathered at the medical school to receive screening tests, flu shots, physician consultations, and other services. This event is entirely run by the medical students in UAAMSA, and it is one of the most rewarding volunteering experiences that we have engaged in during medical school so far.

Leading up to this year’s health fair, we helped to recruit medical students, physicians, and undergraduate volunteers, while other members of UAAMSA gathered screening equipments, translated health forms, and advertised at local Asian restaurants, churches, and grocery stores. On the day of the fair, participants registered and went through a series of stations set up in the Taubman Health Sciences Library. Some of the screening stations included blood glucose, cholesterol, and bone density, and there were information booths about medications, dental health, and health insurance. If the participants had an abnormal screening result or a specific health concern, they could consult with a physician volunteer at the fair.

There are many challenges to the successful care of Asian-American patients, and one of the reasons we both became involved in UAAMSA was to help address these issues. There is a general lack of data on Asian-American health, and in the few epidemiologic studies available, the dozens of distinct and diverse ethnicities are usually grouped together. Asian-Americans also encounter barriers to receiving quality care, such as language proficiency and cultural orientation. To combat these issues, we collected patient demographics and health outcomes data at the health fair in order to better understand the population we were serving, and we also helped to interpret for the participants who did not speak English.

Our passion for the health fair also stems from having seen these challenges in the interactions between medical professionals and our parents, family members, and close acquaintances. We often try to be there for our family members at doctor’s appointments to facilitate communication and to make the interactions smoother, but this is not always possible with a busy medical school schedule far away from home. This UAAMSA health fair gave us the opportunity to do that by allowing us to engage with the local Asian-American community here at Michigan and to help them understand and receive basic health care screens.

A new initiative for UAAMSA this year was to focus on patient education during the health fair. This was spurred by the fact that many past participants did not have a regular doctor, and some discovered health problems at the fair that they did not understand and would not have known about otherwise. We took special care to explain each condition we screened for so that participants were educated about ways to prevent and manage certain diseases. While we had a lot of fun meeting and interacting with members of the local Asian-American community, it was also very rewarding to provide them short-term care through screening and patient education. We are already looking forward to next year’s health fair!