Introduction: Student-run free clinics (SRFCs) are a recent popular addition to medical school education, and a subset of studies has looked at the influence of SRFC volunteering on the medical student’s career development. The majority of the research done in this area has focused on understanding if these SRFCs produce physicians who are more likely to practice medicine in underserved communities, caring for the uninsured. The remainder of the research has investigated if volunteering in an SRFC influences the specialty choice of medical school students. The results of these specialty choice studies give no definitive answer as to whether medical students chose primary or specialty care residencies as a result of their SRFC experience.
Keeping Neighbors in Good Health through Service (KNIGHTS) is the SRFC of the University of Central Florida College of Medicine (UCF COM). Both primary and specialty care is offered at the clinic. It is the goal of this study to determine if volunteering in the KNIGHTS SRFC influences UCF COM medical students to choose primary care, thereby helping to meet the rising need for primary care physicians in the United States.
Methods: A survey was distributed to first, second, and third-year medical students at the UCF COM to collect data on demographics, prior volunteering experience, and specialty choice for residency. Responses were then combined with records of volunteer hours from the KNIGHTS Clinic and analyzed for correlations. We analyzed the frequency and Pearson’s chi-squared values. A p value of less than 0.05 was considered statistically significant.
Results: Our survey had a total response rate of 39.8%. We found that neither the act of becoming a KNIGHTS Clinic volunteer nor the hours volunteered at the KNIGHTS Clinic influenced the UCF COM student’s choice to enter a primary care specialty (p = NS). Additionally, prior volunteering/clinical experience or the gender of the medical school student did not influence a student’s choice to volunteer at the KNIGHTS Clinic.
Discussion: Volunteering at KNIGHTS Clinic did not increase student choice to enter primary care, with students choosing other specialties at equal rates, probably due to the variety of specialties present at the KNIGHTS Clinic. This suggests that the volunteer attending physicians present at an SRFC may influence the choice of residency for students. It also suggests that SFRCs are not a viable tool to increase the number of primary care doctors in the United States.