January 9, 2020, was a fun and productive day at the Plank Road Clinic in Wauwatosa as 38 athletes from Milwaukee Public Schools and the Team Milwaukee agency received free physicals.
Medical students from the Medical College of Wisconsin and other volunteers generously donated their time and expertise during the annual Free Physical Day. For the last nine years now, this special day has provided athletes an opportunity to get a standard sports physical, meaning they can use this exam to meet requirements to participate in upcoming Special Olympics Wisconsin competitions.
“It was one of those deeply fulfilling days where it reminds you about all the things you love about what you do.” – volunteer Kris Bolling, FNP-C
15 of the participants this year were even new athletes who are now cleared and ready to begin their journeys as Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes.
However, these new athletes weren’t the only newbies whose lives were impacted by this event. For many of the participating medical students, this was their first time working with Special Olympics athletes. Naturally, it made a lasting impression. The students were blown away by the athletes’ attitudes and enthusiasm. They also recognized how grateful the athletes were to be receiving this free service and how even something as simple as the removal of excess earwax can make a big difference. Six athletes had their earwax removed, leading to immediate hearing improvement.
“This rekindled some of the energy I had to begin medical school, and proves to me that the spark is still there.” – medical student David Feller
According to medical student David Feller, who is set to graduate next year, the event was a much-needed reminder of why he chose to enter the medical profession. “It is easy to get swamped down by the endless coursework, deadlines, and upcoming exams when you are in medical school,” Feller said. “Every patient we saw was so appreciative of the opportunity we were providing them, and was genuinely excited just to be at the doctor. This rekindled some of the energy I had to begin medical school, and proves to me that the spark is still there.”
This rekindled spark was not lost on first-time volunteer and family nurse practitioner, Kris Bolling. “It was so wonderful to see the medical students gain such confidence as they did more and more physicals and to watch how their comfort with communication with the athletes grew as well,” Bolling said. “As the day went on the brief reports from the students developed from just physical findings to the physical findings and all about the athletes and what they were looking forward to in the basketball season.”
A seasoned veteran of the medical field, Bolling recognizes the importance of exposing medical students in their training to people with intellectual disabilities. “As clinicians we treat such a wide variety of patients, but training does not always reflect that,” Bolling said. “I think it was extremely beneficial to the students to meet all the different athletes, who all have their own individual health issues and to examine them but also meet them as people.”
Bolling, who is also the mother of a new Special Olympics Wisconsin athlete herself, was so blown away by the Physical Day that she emailed the organizers from Special Olympics Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin the following day. “I had such a wonderful time with both the patients and the students,” she wrote in the email. “It was one of those deeply fulfilling days where it reminds you about all the things you love about what you do.”