Rather than heading home to New York City after his junior year, healthcare studies major Timothy Park, ’18, left Richmond for a road less traveled. In just under six hours he arrived at his destination in Wise County, Virginia, a rural area impacted by a deteriorating coal mining industry. It was there he spent his summer interning with Health Wagon, a nonprofit mobile health clinic that provides health care to medically underserved populations in the mountains of Central Appalachia.

Park’s journey to Wise County began just a few months earlier when he transferred to Richmond. He signed up for Rick Mayes’s Introduction to Healthcare Studies where he learned about rural health care policies.

The possibility of actually working with the Health Wagon, however, wasn’t on Park’s radar until his alternative spring break in Detroit with the SEEDS Project. That’s where Park met the University’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) program coordinator, Cody Fleeger. Fleeger had worked with several other Richmond students who had interned with Health Wagon.

In 2017, Health Wagon provided free health services, such as dental and vision care, to approximately 25,000 uninsured or underinsured patients in Southwest Virginia. The nonprofit relies heavily on volunteer participation to host the largest remote area medical (RAM) clinic in the country that spans across three days in July.

Fleeger encouraged Park to apply for an internship with the nonprofit.

“After talking with Cody, I was excited to get my foot in the door as soon as possible,” Park says. “I wanted to learn more about the logistical and managerial aspects of health care nonprofits and how both RAM and the Health Wagon were financially able to provide free medical services to the immense number of people with limited funds and resources. At the same time, I wanted to gain clinical exposure by shadowing doctors and engaging one-on-one with patients.”

Park landed the internship and spent his summer writing grants and developing fundraising materials to distribute to local businesses and potential donors. He also set up a medical inventory and spent almost a month updating health care guidelines, all in preparation for the RAM clinic.

With the help of his faculty mentor, George Hiller, Park recognized his internship as an opportunity to shed light on health care disparities in Virginia and how nonprofit organizations like the Health Wagon serve those who cannot afford basic health care services. He documented his experiences in Wise with a 29-minute video highlighting one-on-one interviews with health care professionals and his experiences at the four-day RAM clinic, including one account of surgery.  

“In the last two weeks of my internship I was conducting interviews with clinicians, doctors, nurses, and pharmacy students,” Park says. “The one-on-one time gave me the opportunity to ask deeper questions about their experiences. I really gained a whole new level of respect.”

As he prepares for graduation in May, Park has his sights set on medical school for orthopedics. But first he’s planning to apply for a post-baccalaureate program at Richmond next year, where he’s certain the relationships and experiences he gained last summer will prove to be invaluable tools in reaching his career goals.

“Being able to work with the Health Wagon and RAM this past summer, and becoming friends with the staff and patients was a very humbling and invaluable opportunity for me,” Park says. “Building relationships with individuals from all types of administrative and medical professions have helped me gain the knowledge, work experience, and clinical compassion that I hope to one day implement into my own medical practice and professional career.”