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'We want to take care of our community': Street medicine program brings foot clinic to The Landing

Participants in Zumbro Valley Medical Society's street medicine initiative provided foot care, and new socks and shoes to people experiencing homelessness.

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Medical students, residents and physicians were onsite at The Landing in Rochester for its first foot clinic Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.
Abby Sharpe / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — When Zhenya Knyazhanskaya was gearing up to attend the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Rochester last year, she repeatedly heard comments about how Rochester isn’t the best place to study if she wanted to work with underserved and underprivileged populations.

“You hear that messaging just because, you know, Rochester is not L.A.,” she said. “Rochester is not New York, or Chicago.”

Knyazhanskaya came to Rochester with that thought in mind, and she thought she’d have to pursue a different path.

Then Zumbro Valley Medical Society started its street medicine initiative last year. The program includes an optional elective for medical students to work with agencies serving people experiencing homelessness and give students the chance to learn ways to bring health care out of a clinic to underserved populations.

Knyazhanskaya participated in the program during its first year.

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“I loved it. I thought it was an incredibly important thing that we're doing,” she said of her experience last year. “This is what I wanted to do. I came to Mayo because it’s wonderful, but I did want to work with underprivileged populations as well. So (the elective) was kind of a surprise, honestly, to me.”

Zumbro Valley Medical Society executive director Beth Kangas said launching specialized clinics at community organizations helping unhoused people was discussed during the street medicine program’s first year but didn’t happen because they were learning how to operate such a program.

The idea of clinics resurfaced about three months ago during a meeting with The Landing MN, the Rochester-based organization that provides support to people experiencing homelessness.

And on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, medical students participating in the street medicine initiative gathered at The Landing to provide foot care to visitors. People received foot soaks and care, and new socks and shoes.

A Rochester Area Foundation Fall 2022 Better Communities grant allowed ZVMS to buy 173 pairs of shoes, Kangas said. Socks were donated by Hippy Feet, a Minneapolis-based company that serves youth experiencing homelessness.

Dan Fifield, the co-founder of The Landing, said the clinic is the perfect example of what his organization wants to do for the community.

“We have a guy that hasn't had his boots off in two weeks, and his feet were horrible. That's their main mode of transportation. (Their feet) are the most important thing on their body, if you will,” he said. “It's exactly what we want to do. We want to take care of our community. We want to give back, and we're just excited to be that vessel here.”

For Knyazhanskaya and other medical students participating in the street medicine initiative, the clinic allowed them to dive right into caring for those who need it most.

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“It's a great opportunity, a great privilege and really humbling, all at once,” she said. “This is something that we really don't get as an experience in the classroom. We've been in lectures, we've been studying, looking at textbooks, looking at flashcards, and that's all great. But it's not the same as being literally below a person as they're soaking their feet and telling you their life story, telling you all of their medical problems.

“That's really humbling to be in that position," Knyazhanskaya said. "And you might think of yourself as the smartest med student in the world, but, really, what it comes down to in the end is human interaction and empathy. That's it. And you can't get that from a textbook.”

Fifield hopes more clinics are in the future for The Landing and the street medicine program. A possible ophthalmology clinic was discussed a few times Saturday.

“I think that’s one of the more exciting things,” he said. “It’s just the things that we can continue to do to help.”

Abby Sharpe joined the Post Bulletin in February 2022 after graduating from Arizona State University with a sports journalism degree. While at ASU, she created short- and long-form stories for audio and digital. Readers can reach Abby at 507-285-7723 or asharpe@postbulletin.com.
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