Penn Nursing Helps Launch New United Community Clinic

Living the example of Penn’s mission translates into incredible impact in one underserved community.

A young female nurse takes a blood pressure reading from a male patient.

On any given night at the United Community Clinic at The African Family Health Organization (AFAHO) in the Southwest Philadelphia area known as “Little Africa,” you might meet someone from Mali, Sudan, or the Ivory coast, and hear a few different languages around the room. Clients—especially African and Caribbean immigrants and refugees—can obtain essential care, including medical care, thanks to AFAHO’s translators, cultural navigators, and Penn students and faculty.

Penn partnered with AFAHO to set up the United Community Clinic (UCC), integrating health services with AFAHO’s existing human and educational services offerings. This collaboration allows students—Penn Nursing BSN and MSN students and medical students—to gain a unique clinical experience in an underrepresented neighborhood, supporting clinic providers.

One of those providers is Certified Nurse-Midwife Hadja Diallo, CNM, WHNP, GNu’15. Having grown up in Guinea, West Africa, she brings a rich cultural understanding to the clinic, picking up on nuances that someone with another background might miss. She is committed to passing along this cultural knowledge to students—including the Penn Nursing students accruing required clinical hours through their work here.

Students describe Diallo as an enlightening and empathetic preceptor. Theresa Hayden, RN, GNu’23, says, “I knew right away that Diallo truly cares for people and her patients. She did not hesitate in taking charge or speaking up when there was room for improvement in patient care or aspects of clinic organization. Her advocacy for her patients is truly admirable.”

Megan Doherty, MPH, Director of Operations and Programming in the Perelman School of Medicine’s Center for Global Health (CGH), is developing a cultural/medical competency program for the students, complementing the education in cultural competency they are receiving from Diallo and the organization’s cultural navigators, something often not accessible through experiences in the traditional heath system.

Terri Lipman, PhD, CRNP, FAAN, GNu’83, GRN’91, involved in putting together the clinic’s previous space with Ann Teitelman, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN, at the First African Presbyterian Church (now New River Presbyterian Church) at 42nd and Girard Avenue in Parkside, says, “being able to engage with patients outside of the walls of the hospital provides a clearer perspective of their lived environment, their strengths, and the challenges faced by marginalized communities.”

Diallo also cites the physical space of the clinic as conducive to the interdisciplinary collaboration that students experience here. She says, “From the time a patient walks into the clinic, the whole team is really forced to work together, helping to remove barriers for interdisciplinary communication.”

Penn Medicine professor Michael Beers, MD, agrees. He says, “We view our clinic as spokes on a wheel. At the center is AFAHO itself—the case workers, translators, and organization as a whole acting as a social safety net for immigrants. We work as the spokes, assessing what’s needed and referring clients into the health system for follow-up care where necessary.”

Hayden values her experience as part of the wheel spoke. One patient, originally from Nigeria, resisted the idea of getting a flu vaccine at first, but gaining an understanding of where the patient was coming from made it possible to change his mind. She says, “Taking that extra few minutes to get to know a patient a little better can make a real difference and create a ripple effect with how they approach their health and receiving care.”

AFAHO Health Programs Manager Dianne Uwayo MPH says, “Students have been very receptive to learning from clients—it’s been impactful to see them understanding barriers to care, such as language access, that they may not learn about in their classes.”

The clinic—currently open every other week from 5:30-8:30 PM—will likely have expanded hours and services in the future, thanks in part to a Penn Medicine CAREs grant secured by Diallo. There are also plans to bring in a medical director, expand women’s health access, broaden the formulary to supply asthma medications, and deploy EKG machines and Point-of-Care Ultrasound.

Diallo says, “I hope Penn Nursing can be at the forefront of expanding this project—we have so many resources, and we can be instrumental in its staffing.”

Interested students and faculty, especially those with French and West African language skills, who would like to volunteer are encouraged to get involved. To learn more, visit afaho.org.

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