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Beyond the Classroom

Growing Communities and Professionals
May 13, 2019

Portrait of Kerry Witherell

Portrait of Kerry Witherell
Photo by Phuong Tran, CLAgency student

At the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic (PNC) in south Minneapolis, everyone is winning.

The clinic’s mission is to help provide more quality health services to patients with unmet needs; to develop compassionate, culturally sensitive future health professionals; and support partnerships that promote health and wellbeing.

The patients of the PNC receive the health services they need, U of M students get professional experience, and the community has healthier members.

Dr. Kerry Witherell, an audiology clinical supervisor in the speech-language-hearing sciences department at the University of Minnesota connects her students to this valuable experience.  

Community-Engaged Practice

Located in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic (PNC) offers an array of medical services and tests entirely free of cost. The clinic seeks to provide comprehensive and culturally sensitive healthcare to the local community, specifically to those who might otherwise lack access to care. 

University of Minnesota student teams staff the clinic in shifts every Monday and Thursday night, offering services including dental, medical, mental health, nutritional, pharmaceutical, legal, audiological, and more. 

At these weekly clinics, Witherell and students from the department perform basic hearing tests for two to six clients each session. Client ages range from children to elders. Recently, with the donation from the local hearing aid manufacturing company ReSound, the team has been able to give out free hearing aids to clients in need. 

Building Skills and People

Thanks to their involvement with the PNC, students gain unrivaled experiences directly in their field. For graduate students looking to go into an audiological field as a practicing clinician, practical opportunities working directly with clients help them develop skills in a setting that can’t be created in a classroom. 

Witherell also points to a new focus for the audiology students to gain experience working with peers from other medical fields. The structure of the PNC focuses on this interdisciplinary mission, as students across the University of Minnesota work together to provide comprehensive and complete care for their patients. 

At the same time, Witherell sees the clinic as an opportunity for young professionals to learn how to interact with and provide care to patients of varying backgrounds. It’s important for medical professionals to be respectful and responsive to cultural differences, and by working with many different clients at the PNC, Witherell’s students gain valuable interpersonal skills. Witherell says work at the clinic pushes students to become active participants in culturally competent, diverse programs and gain professional development outside the classroom.

Engagement for a Fulfilling Future 

Witherell herself is no stranger to community and professional engagement outside of the classroom, as she currently serves as a member of multiple organizations for professionals working in speech-language-hearing sciences fields, including Minnesota Academy of Audiology and the Minnesota Department of Education’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Advisory Committee. 

Off-campus involvement in one’s field is vital to promoting both the work done by the field as a whole and giving back to others in need of its services, Witherell says. She pursued engagement with the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic with her graduate students in mind as a way to inspire community investment for the future. 

Witherell and her team of students have only been involved with the PNC for the last two years, but she sees SLHS’ involvement in the community growing. She hopes to see her audiology section become more self-sufficient and focused on student operations as the department grows. For students looking to engage with communities through their degree, Witherell emphasizes participation: “[Your work] is more worthwhile if you are engaged.” 

This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLAgency. Meet the team.