Congratulations to Dr. Katherine O'Rourke, a third-year resident in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology (UW Ob-Gyn), and Dr. Mary Landry, a clinical associate professor in the department, who were honored as the August recipients of the Jefferson Award for community service. O'Rourke and Landry were nominated in recognition of their efforts in founding Share the Health, a free gynecology clinic for uninsured women in the Madison area.
The Channel 27 WKOW news team, who reviews nominations and honors local Jefferson Award recipients each month, recently interviewed O'Rourke and Landry at Share the Health.
The clinic, which opened its doors in January of 2014, accepts referrals for uninsured patients below 300 percent of the federal poverty level in Dane and neighboring counties who can't afford to pay out of pocket for care for issues like abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, or follow-up procedures after abnormal pap smears.
The clinic is run entirely by volunteers, including students, residents, and faculty from the University of Wisconsin Schools of Medicine and Public Health, Business, and Law. Healthcare organizations and private practices, including UW Hospitals and Clinics, Meriter-UnityPoint, and Madison Women's Health have agreed to donate certain fees, space, and equipment for the clinic.
While O'Rourke has been the driving force behind the clinic, she is quick to credit her colleagues and collaborators who helped her turn her inspiration into a reality in an incredible short period of time.
As a first-year intern on the gynecologic oncology rotation—only three or four months into her UW Ob-Gyn residency—O'Rourke cared for a patient who had arrived at the emergency room with abdominal pain, only to be diagnosed with cervical cancer that had spread throughout her abdomen.
"She had a very complicated hospital stay and I cared for her almost every day of my month on the rotation,” O'Rourke recounted. "I kept thinking that she didn't have to be here because cervical cancer is almost 100% preventable, but she hadn't had medical insurance for the last 20 years, so she hadn't seen a doctor.”
O'Rourke recalled a free, medical student-run clinic where she had volunteered during medical school in Chicago and asked her mentor, Landry, whether a similar service existed in the Madison area. Landry, who has spent her entire medical career in Madison, wasn't aware of a free clinic that could handle gynecologic referrals that went beyond the birth control consultations, pap smears, and other routine screenings. Hence, the dream of Share the Health free gynecology clinic was born.
O'Rourke and Landry wasted no time in bringing their idea to fruition.
"We came up with the idea in December of 2012, and by September of 2013 we had created the 501c3 non-profit,” O'Rourke said. "In January of 2014 we opened our doors.”
The Jefferson Award is not the only honor O'Rourke has received in recognition of her community service and humanitarianism. She has been chosen as a 2014 inductee into the UW-Madison chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS), which honors senior medical students, residents, role-model physician teachers and other exemplars recognized for, "demonstrated excellence in clinical care, leadership, compassion and dedication to service."
Each year, medical student inductees select two faculty members and one resident to be inducted alongside them. This year's class chose O'Rourke as the resident based on her work with Share the Health.
"I think humanism in medicine is realizing that health care isn't about diseases,” O'Rourke said. "It's about taking care of people and helping them get to a place where they can enjoy the things in life that are important to them. It's about making patients comfortable in the healthcare environment and paying attention to what's important for each individual patient.”