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In response to the storm’s devastation, volunteers from all over the world have to come to the aid of the hurricane victims, and in true Volunteer State fashion, several nursing faculty and students from the University of Tennessee have traveled several times to the New Orleans area to offer health care assistance.

The trips to New Orleans were organized through International Medical Alliance (IMA), a volunteer medical relief organization, and Remote Area Medical (RAM), a mobile relief force comprised of medical volunteers. Both organizations are Knoxville-based.

IMA was established by UT College of Nursing alum, Dorothy Davison, and her husband Dr. Dale Betterton. Through IMA and Operation Blessing, an international relief and humanitarian organization, the couple started a medical clinic in New Orleans shortly after Katrina hit.

RAM, directed by Stan Brock, works with IMA in supplying volunteers and supplies for the International Medical Alliance Medical Clinic in New Orleans.

On the most recent trip in May, Dava Shoffner, an associate professor, took five nurse practitioner students to New Orleans to provide women’s health care at the IMA Medical Clinic. Earlier this year, Shoffner traveled to New Orleans with another faculty member, Mary Kollar, a clinical assistant professor, and six graduate nurse practitioner students to volunteer at the clinic. The inaugural trip to the Gulf Coast in early 2006, led by Kollar and clinical instructor Karen Lasater, involved two graduate students.

The clinic, at one time set-up at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, was established mainly to serve patients who had relied on Charity Hospital. Charity Hospital treated patients regardless of income or insurance coverage. When it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, its patients were left with nowhere to turn.

“A lot of health care providers left town and one of the area’s major hospitals was wiped out and still hasn’t been replaced. Many of these residents don’t have enough money to afford health care elsewhere,” Kollar said. “This clinic is one of their only options.”

Thanks to Davison, her husband and volunteers like the UT nursing groups, the clinic provides a variety of services including women’s health, mental health, dental, pharmaceutical, optometric and primary care to many of the former patrons of Charity Hospital for free.

“The patients were so appreciative that we were there and thanked us over and over,” Shoffner said.

Though each trip lasted for about a week, the nursing faculty and student volunteers saw and treated many patients. Their ability to provide medical assistance freed up other doctors and nurse practitioners to see more patients.

The graduate students who traveled to New Orleans are all registered nurses pursuing advanced degrees. While most have medical experience, volunteering in New Orleans exposed them to diverse populations and conditions they may not see as frequently in Tennessee, Shoffner said.

The IMA Medical Clinic plans to operate in New Orleans for at least another year. A return trip for nursing students and faculty is planned for the spring semester.

Dava Shoffner, (865) 414-6167,
Mary Kollar, (865) 250-1521,
Kristi Hintz, (865) 974-3993,

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