Med student next door

Albert Schweitzer fellow and second-year medical student Kate Magee felt that her relationships with the community members she serves needed to grow stronger in order to see a change in their lives. Instead of being viewed as an outgoing visitor, she became a welcoming neighbor and friend.

Med student next door click to enlarge Kate Magee (Photo courtesy of Christian Medical & Dental Associations, Dave Bushing)

by Hannah Crain - hannah.crain@unchealth.unc.edu

As an undergraduate at UNC, Kate Magee thought that medicine would be a good career choice. Her list of reasons for wanting to become a doctor, however, wasn’t long. After a medical research trip to Singapore in summer 2011, faith began to play a larger role in her life and her reasoning evolved.

“I began to see my faith as a new way to approach medicine,” says Magee.  

For Magee, the opportunity to attend medical school and become a physician became a privilege – a chance to serve others. In 2012, upon graduating from UNC, Magee took her faith into the field by traveling to East Africa to see how Christian physicians practiced there. They cared not only for their patients' physical health, but also for their spiritual health.

“I saw doctors praying with their patients and took spiritual history courses,” Magee said. “The work that I did there motivated me to learn more about Albert Schweitzer and the missionary hospital he founded in Lambaréné, Gabon, Africa in 1913.”

Albert Schweitzer was a doctor, professor, pastor, author and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Today, his legacy has helped create a fellowship in his name for graduate students to organize service projects that address causes of health disparities in under-resourced communities.

After returning from Africa, Magee enrolled in the UNC School of Medicine, and she immediately became involved in the community by volunteering for the Samaritan Health Center's (SHC) Mobile Clinic in Durham, N.C. Founded by UNC medical students and former Schweitzer fellows Taylor Bazemore and Justin Morse, the SHC Mobile Clinic was designed to help community members who can't make it to SHC for medical care.

“Not only can these people not afford their treatment, but they don’t have transportation or the means to get to appointments,” says Magee.

As Mobile Clinic volunteers, Magee and other medical students go to an apartment complex in Durham to conduct health care treatments for community members. Many in need of health care are refugees resettled by World Relief, an organization that helps relocate people from places like Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Myanmar. More than 160,000 foreign-born people live in the Triangle area and each year more than one thousand more move to the area.

“With so many newcomers each year, there’s a huge need to care for these people,” says Magee. “It can be difficult to treat everyone because the cultures are so different, to say nothing of the language barriers and different understandings of health care.”

The Mobile Clinic has grown tremendously since opening four years ago. This year the clinic started using an electronic medical record system and making home visits. As Magee became more involved with the clinic, she noticed that there were more needs in the community. After seeing the impact the clinic made on international patients in the neighborhood, Magee thought she could do more. 

“We’ve built a lot of relationships with the community and the clinic has evolved so much, but there were some public health issues that still needed to be addressed,” she says.

Kate Magee with Patient - Oct. 2014
Kate Magee performing a health screening on her neighbor, Hussein Hezam at the SHC Mobile Clinic (Photo courtesy of Kate Magee)

Magee felt that her relationships with community members needed to grow stronger in order to see a change in their lives. Instead of being viewed as an outgoing visitor, she wanted to become a welcoming neighbor and friend by moving into the same complex the Mobile Clinic serves.

“By being a neighbor instead of just being someone who dropped in each week, it’s opened a lot of doors and has helped us to really get to know the community,” she says.

Combining her passions of running and working to fulfill the needs of youth in the community, Magee and her roommates organized Durham’s first chapter of Godly Running Girls, a nonprofit running program founded in Charlotte. This after school club for girls attending Creekside Elementary is part of her Albert Schweitzer Fellowship project.

“I saw a need among the young girls in the community to have a mentor and positive role model in their lives,” she says. “They need constructive things to do after school. Improving their physical health through exercising and healthier eating while also sparking some spiritual interest were ways I could help.”

Growing up, Magee was involved in running groups as a child and was always motivated by her mother. When she was in elementary school her mom led a running team at her school. Magee now trains for marathons, just like her mom, and even completed one in Uganda during her time in Africa. Her mother will assist her in leading the after school program.

The Godly Running Girls group meets twice a week after school. The program provides devotional time to talk about body image, bullying, gossiping, purity, modesty and caring for your body. The exercise component of the program involves the girls training for a 5k in Raleigh called the Jingle Bell Jog. The race will take place in December and girls will be encouraged to run with their moms.

“The objective of the project is to help the girls reach physical and spiritual goals while helping them see that they are wonderfully and perfectly made in God’s image,” she says.

Magee hopes the girls will be able to associate their home as a place where they can exercise and be healthy. Within a few months of living in the neighborhood and planning her Schweitzer project, she has learned the importance of knowing her community.

Kate Magee - Running Club Oct. 2014
Kate Magee leading her after school running program (Photo courtesy of Kate Magee)

“Previously when I volunteered, I spent time with the community for just a few hours,” she says. “Now, my entire life is being opened up to my neighbors and it’s a very transparent way to live. They know when I’m home and what I’m doing."

Magee explains that dinner invites started pouring in once her neighbors witnessed her dilettante cooking techniques. "The mothers living next door would see me making scrambled eggs in my microwave, but now my fridge is always filled with international leftovers, thanks to my neighbors," she says. "I’m really thankful God has given me this opportunity to learn and grow alongside my neighbors. It encourages me to reflect on my life and make sure that everything in it aligns with my spiritual values."

Magee hopes to continue her work with the community and watch the families grow stronger and healthier well into the future.