A Report of the Philadelphia Summer Medical Institute, June 18-July 9, 2022

By Holly Favino, Program Director


On a sunny day in July a pair of Christian health care students and their interpreter knocked on doors of tightly packed row houses in Kensington, Philadelphia, offering free health screens. A woman and her mother getting out of their car decided to have their blood pressures taken. Moments later, the students sat in their living room sharing information about hypertension and providing the screens.

The students talked with them about their health but also explained that this program partnered with local churches to provide support or spiritual care to those interested. One woman detailed some of her personal struggles and agreed to have the students pray for her. One of the students shared some of her own testimony and by the visit’s end the woman asked for follow up from the local church partner. There were tears and hugs as they finished.

This is the core daily work of the Philadelphia Summer Medical Institute (SMI): lots of footwork knocking on doors in the summer heat; providing screens, health education and community and church referrals—listening and praying with people and even sharing the gospel with those interested. During debriefing at the end of each day the students discussed their work. They discuss the medical work but also learn to think critically about complex issues (including the rise in gun violence and extensive, blatant substance abuse they see). They also witness God’s ongoing work and learn to appropriately share the love of Christ in word and deed.


Medical Campus Outreach (MCO), a ministry of the Christian Community Health Fellowship, has run SMI in partnership with Esperanza Health Center for 31 years, providing health education and church referrals to the communities the program serves.


For the past two years MCO adapted SMI for the pandemic, limiting the students’ exposure to hands-on care. This summer, however, 14 Christian health care students were grateful to once again live and work in the neighborhoods for three weeks without incident (keeping health and safety protocols) and provide screens.


“SMI is a valuable way to meet new people and connect our church with the local community,” said Pastor Vince Diaz of Lighthouse Family Center, one of the three 2022 partner churches, who had several from his church go out with the teams, including himself. “Being out in the neighborhood is a good reminder of how we needed to be intentional in getting out. There’s a community that needs to hear about Jesus.”


Lighthouse’s history with SMI goes back further. As a teen in the 1990s Pastor Vince served as an interpreter for SMI. SMI also partnered with Lighthouse in 2013, and people who were referred to its church then were later baptized there and are still active members to this day.  Encouraged by the recent outreach, the church will also partner with MCO in the upcoming year to host a Saturday medical outreach.

The numbers below detail the work accomplished this summer, including some mornings spent taking patient social determinants of health (SDOH) surveys at Esperanza:

      • 1,789 doors knocked on
      • 375 individuals screened
      • 341 blood pressure screens given
      • 290 body mass index (BMI) screens performed
      • 221 diabetes risk screens performed
      • 314 received prayer (not including during SDOH)
      • 61 people requested church follow up

At Esperanza (SDOH surveys):

      • 140 total surveys were taken
      • 48 had a diagnosis (several had more than one), 37 received resources from the students, 69 received prayer

In student follow up calls to those who had screens that appeared to have high readings for issues that were previously undiagnosed, 79 people were attempted to be called and 38 answered; 13 called a doctor, 15 had an appointment coming/already had it (some had an appointment on their calendars before the SMI visit); 12 planned to make an appointment; 17 said they took their action because of the SMI student visit.


For the students, SMI was impactful. They studied the book of James, each shadowed once at Esperanza and were accompanied, taught and provided relational mentoring by many volunteer faculty members. “It is rare to encounter a program that so emphasizes contextual education and student-run medical outreach, in partnership with local clinics and ministries,” said pre-nursing student Priscilla C. “At the heart of it all, the program is grounded in the work of God within Kensington, and provided (us) with the opportunity to partner with Him through our work and learning here.”

We continue to pray for Esperanza staff and the neighborhood churches who continue their good work. At Lighthouse, along with those the church is following up with, one woman has started attending regularly and has become active in the church the past two months. Thanks to all who supported SMI and praise God for his faithfulness!