Two people wearing doctor's white coats pose for a photo with a mannequin and a sign behind them that reads U-Health
Lindsay Aldrich (left) and Richard Vuong pose for a photo in the mobile health clinic mockup in UVM’s Center for Biomedical Innovation. (photo by Bailey Beltramo)

Medical Students’ Project Improves Rural Health Care Access

May 6, 2024 by Janet Essman Franz

During their first year of medical school, Class of 2025 medical students Lindsay Aldrich and Richard Vuong won a competitive fellowship from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation to develop an idea: They envisioned bringing the doctor’s office to new mothers and infants in rural regions of Vermont via a mobile health clinic.

Aldrich has always been passionate about humanistic medicine and women's health. She completed her master's thesis with the Vermont Department of Health on postpartum birth control use and volunteered throughout college at the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. Vuong volunteered for four years at mobile health clinics in Tennessee prior to attending medical school, and he saw how valuable mobile clinics can be for people living in rural communities where lack of transportation is a barrier to health care.

With nearly 65 percent of its population living in rural areas, Vermont is considered the most rural state in the nation. A 2015–2017 study found that only 56 percent of patients who gave birth at the University of Vermont Medical Center attended a visit within 60 days of giving birth, which is a critical time for new mothers and infants to receive care. Additionally, a survey by the Vermont health department found that two-thirds of respondents identified transportation issues as a cause for missing pregnancy-related or perinatal health care appointments.

Vuong and Aldrich used this data to develop a proposal to create and launch a mobile clinic in Vermont to provide postpartum visits in rural regions. Their project was selected for a Gold Foundation Student Summer Fellowship, which aims to help medical students develop skills to become compassionate, relationship-centered physicians by supporting interprofessional teamwork focused on improving the health of traditionally underserved populations. The fellowship includes a grant of up to $4,000 to support students while they work on summer research or service projects. 

The pair spent the summer of 2022 implementing their project, which involved collaborating with undergraduate and graduate students and faculty in UVM’s Center for Biomedical Innovation (CBI) to create a prototype of a mobile clinic. They named the clinic U-Health, inspired by the potential of retrofitting a U-Haul moving truck. Vuong and Aldrich partnered with CBI director Mike Rosen, associate professor in the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, and Rosen’s team of engineering students to design the mobile clinic. The goal was to create interchangeable, mission-specific modules that could be quickly mounted inside the vehicle to provide a variety of health care services. The medical students provided input on what medical equipment would be needed inside. They recruited mentorship from Jill Warrington, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and director for population health, and Marjorie Meyer, M.D., professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Services.

In addition to providing medical care, the mobile health clinic could also provide opportunities for interprofessional education in health care, including realistic clinical simulation training of high acuity, low occurrence events in small, rural emergency departments.

“The very long-term goal is to have it be an interprofessional collaboration between medical students, nursing students, and pre-med students,” said Vuong.

Now in their third year of medical school, Aldrich and Vuong are busy with their studies and clinical rotations, but they stay in contact with Rosen and the CBI engineering team. Their project planted the seed for a new agreement between CBI and the UVM Health Network to deploy a mobile health care delivery vehicle to meet the health care needs of vulnerable populations in rural areas. A team that includes David Clauss, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine and chief medical officer at the UVM Health Network, is developing a multi-use health care delivery vehicle that is not limited to one specific purpose. Future deployments may include health screenings, vaccinations, physical exams, chronic disease management, and educational activities involving simulation training for emergency care teams in rural regions. 

Read more about the mobile clinic project on the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences website. 

Listen to or read an interview with Lindsay Aldrich and Richard Vuong on the Gold Foundation website.