It’s mid-Friday afternoon at Wendell Phillips at Attucks Elementary School and the gym is buzzing. It’s Score 1 for Health day at the school at 24th and Prospect in Kansas City, Missouri, and kids here are getting free health screenings from medical students at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, or KCU.
For these mostly second-year med students, the program offers invaluable hands-on experience. For some, the program is what appealed to them about KCU, an osteopathic medical school near downtown Kansas City.
“Score 1 is our opportunity to see real-life scenarios where kids may come in with scars or they have a cavity or they have pain,” says Michelle Amit, a second-year med student at KCU who plans to be a pediatrician. “It’s really cool to interact with them. And they’re ready to tell you everything.”
More than half of osteopathic med students go into primary care, and Amit says Score 1 gives them a chance to deal with kids at an early stage of their medical education.
“It’s kind of nice to get a preliminary interaction with children now and kind of see what to look for and how do you even ask them the right questions,” Amit says. “You can’t just ask them normal questions. They don’t know all the medical vocabulary. So you really have to kind of tone it down: ‘So what’s hurting you today?’”
Some kids who first saw a doctor when they were examined as part of the Score 1 program have become doctors themselves.
Courtney Cockerell, a gastroenterology fellow at the University of Missouri-Columbia, attended Norsleet Elementary School in the Raytown school district. As a 9-year-old, she was screened as part of the Score 1 program.
“You got to meet people that were in their 20-somethings that were wearing white coats, so not only was it sort of a field day or an afternoon off, but it was this cool experience where you get to talk to someone that’s sort of your idol,” Cockerell says.
Although she comes from a family of physicians, Cockerell says she didn’t think about becoming a physician herself until she saw the Score 1 med students.
“That was really surprising to me because all of the physicians that I’d seen as a child were male,” Cockerell says. “And so I think that was probably one of the first times I realized this was something I could do.”
Score 1 for Health began nearly 25 years ago, the brainchild of the late Dr. Bob Ricci, chief of staff at the old Park Lane Medical Center in east Kansas City, and former Kansas City Chiefs safety Deron Cherry.
In its first year it offered health screenings to 240 students in one school, Westridge Elementary School in the Raytown school district. Cherry says before leaving, they gave the kids toothpaste and toothbrushes. He recalls the reaction of the principal, Dave Coffman.
“I remember walking back into Dave’s office and he had tears in his eyes,” Cherry says. “And I said, ‘Dave, can you explain why you got tears rolling down your face?’ And he said, ‘Deron … everybody thinks Raytown is this upper middle-class city, but we have a lot of underserved kids and a lot of these kids have never even seen a toothbrush or toothpaste and don’t know how to use it.”
Today the program that Ricci and Cherry started is in 43 area elementary area schools and serves 13,000 students annually. Funding for the program comes in substantial part from an annual golf tournament and other fund-raisers put on by Cherry.
“You just never really know the situations that people are in,” Cherry says. “I mean, we were finding kids that … had foreign pieces of stuff stuck up in their noses, their ears, kids that were having chronic ear infections and needed to get help. Just a multitude of stuff.”
KCU had a role from the start and took over primary responsibility for the program in late 1999.
“The intention of the program is actually to promote and increase access to primary care,” says Annette Campbell, who has directed Score 1 since 2006.
“So what we hope and expect out of the program is that by our examination, our screenings and then our information, our education and our connection with our parents afterward, is promoting and increasing that access to primary care,” Campbell says.
Ray Newman, Score 1 medical director and a pediatrics instructor at KCU, says many of the children wouldn’t get checkups without Score 1.
"Both parents may work, some single-parent families,” Newman says. “So while the screenings aren’t to replace doctor visits, I do think that there are some kids who don’t see their physician, who the only exam they get may be the one they get at Score 1.”
Back at Wendell Phillips at Attucks Elementary School, Michelle Amit is examining one of her young charges, James Ferriss.
“Think your muscles work pretty well?” Amit asks.
“Yeeess,” says the slightly fidgety second-grader.
“It’s pretty strong.”
It’s the last Score 1 session this school year for the med students. Each of them has now done this about half a dozen times. The hope is that it will allow them not only to acquire clinical experience early on but to become better doctors through an appreciation of the health challenges many families face.
Dan Margolies is KCUR’s health editor. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.