Student Organization Spotlight: Remote Area Medical Washington and Lee’s chapter of Remote Area Medical takes students to remote rural areas to provide medical services and gain valuable practical experience along the way.
“Currently, no other organization exists on campus that provides students with access to such critical clinical engagement opportunities.”
~ Sarp Sahin ’26
Before Sarp Sahin ’26 even arrived at Washington and Lee University as a student, he knew he wanted to give back to W&L’s campus and surrounding community through service. The opportunity presented itself when he reached out to James Ricks ’21, now an M.D. candidate at Harvard Medical School, who originally founded W&L’s Remote Area Medical (RAM) chapter.
RAM is a nonprofit provider of mobile medical clinics where volunteer healthcare professionals come together to deliver free dental, vision and medical care to underserved and uninsured residents in remote areas across the United States. W&L’s RAM is a student-run affiliate chapter of the national organization and connects Washington and Lee students with volunteer opportunities at RAM clinics. W&L RAM provides pre-health students on campus with accessible, hands-on clinical engagement opportunities that supplement coursework pre-health students take at W&L, serves underrepresented patient populations in the surrounding region and connects prospective and current pre-health students with healthcare providers practicing a variety of specialties.
Ricks founded the organization in 2018 by to provide students interested in the medical field the opportunity to give back to the community through clinical engagement. Ricks, who volunteered through W&L’s Bonner program and Campus Kitchen, said his service experiences on campus opened his eyes to the need for healthcare services in rural America. After attending a RAM clinic in Charleston, West Virginia, with friends Robert Masi ’21 and Kush Attal ’21, the group decided to form a club to formalize the volunteering process (pre-health students at W&L had been attending RAM clinics in partnership with Southern Virginia University’s chapter before establishing one at W&L).
Several students and alumni from the university’s pre-health programs met at a clinic held in Wise, Virginia, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed the organization’s in-person services. W&L RAM became dormant in 2020 due to the scaling back of in-person clinics during the height of the pandemic, and Ricks said he was thrilled to hear that there was interest in reviving the group’s work.
“Sarp’s enthusiasm for starting the club back up again was super encouraging,” Ricks said, “and speaks to the kind of service ethos that pervades W&L’s campus community.”
Sahin, a chemistry major and data science minor who was at the time a recently admitted incoming first-year completing his senior year of high school, was inspired by Ricks after reading a Columns feature that highlighted Ricks’ impactful rural health work in both the Appalachians, through RAM, and in rural Nepal on his Fulbright creative grant. Upon starting his first semester, Sahin was encouraged by Matthew Loar, director of fellowships, to contact Ricks to see how he could continue the organization’s work.
“Currently, no other organization exists on campus that provides students with access to such critical clinical engagement opportunities,” Sahin said. “W&L RAM plays a pivotal role in bridging this gap by offering essential clinical volunteering experiences to students.”
In fall 2022, the current W&L RAM executive team (Sarp Sahin ’26, Gretta Syrett ’24, Neil Kansal ’25 and Lucy Worthy ’24) began the process of preparing for launch in fall 2023, working closely with their adviser, John T. Herwick, M.D. Professor of Chemistry Lisa Alty.
Alty, who serves as faculty adviser to W&L’s pre-health students, said the RAM experience is beneficial for students in every pre-health track they may be pursuing at W&L, as the clinics offer opportunities to shadow dentists, optometrists and even pharmacists.
“These clinics are, of course, a wonderful service opportunity, but they also serve our students,” Alty said. “There is a difference between the experiences our pre-dental students will have, for example, shadowing a dentist in their private practice versus attending a RAM clinic and seeing issues that result from being unable to see a dentist for several years. These clinics are a way for them to serve, but this also provides a way for them to get experience that demonstrates that they know about the profession they’re getting into.”
Ricks, an English major with a minor in poverty and human capability studies, said his RAM experience shaped his career path.
“Working with RAM helped me consider how deeply the lack of healthcare access impacts rural Americans,” Ricks said, “and that was a formative experience for me going into medicine. It really galvanized not only my interest in healthcare but community and public health.”
Syrett, RAM’s membership chair and treasurer, said her experience on its leadership team has been rewarding.
“I will be applying to physician assistant schools this spring,” Syrett said, “and RAM is one of the ways in which I am obtaining direct patient care hours. The mission of Remote Area Medical as a national organization also aligns with the discussions I am having within my poverty and human capabilities studies minor courses.”
Sahin said he was methodical in his approach to rebuilding the organization and creating momentum for it on campus, and credits his teammates with helping RAM reach its goal of providing W&L students with the opportunity to participate in a RAM clinic at no cost.
“It’s really been all about recruiting the right people for the leadership,” Sahin said, “and then presenting this idea to the Executive Committee for official recognition by the student body as an organization, which helped us earn affiliate chapter status from RAM’s national organization and embark on our first trip.”
The executive team’s efforts garnered quick results. A team of 20 W&L RAM volunteers traveled to the Charleston, West Virginia, clinic in October 2023 to assist the national RAM organization in providing free medical, dental and vision services worth $69,179 to 247 patients.
“I was able to talk to so many people and understand their situations because of the job I was assigned,” said Lex Thompson ’27, who volunteered in the clinic’s patient registration area. “It was an experience that only taking time and talking to strangers can provide. For many of the people I spoke with that day, a RAM clinic was the only time they could be seen by any medical professional. The number of different life stories shared with me that day taught me to try to better understand the patient while getting their medical history. This opportunity was humbling, and I am glad to have met all the people who sat down in front of me to get checked in.”
Other members of the volunteer team assisted in the radiology unit, with dental extractions and with the clinic’s optician. Students with Spanish language skills assisted with translation in areas such as patient registration and evaluations. Sahin said this is the reason the organization is looking for volunteers with a variety of skill sets and prior experience, and that the executive team’s goal is to be able to offer students the opportunity to travel to clinics at no additional cost. The students’ transportation to Charleston was funded in part by Alty’s endowed professorship funds and the EC. Their lodging was provided by the Saint John XXIII Pastoral Center. The group plans to travel to another clinic in Hendersonville, North Carolina, on Feb. 17 and will be supporting another clinic in nearby Fishersville, Virginia, hosted by the University of Virginia’s RAM chapter.
“I cannot emphasize enough the role that alumni, Executive Committee and external organizations have played in making our service trips possible,” Sahin said.
Sahin said that he sees the future of the organization continuing to be an interconnected effort of students, faculty and alumni.
“More than anything, we are immensely grateful to Professor Alty for being the driving force behind our organization’s revival,” Sahin said, “and to our volunteers and alumni whose generosity and dedication have breathed new life into our organization.”
Students, faculty and alumni interested in learning more about W&L RAM’s work may contact the executive team at RemoteAreaMedical@mail.wlu.edu.