Health Sciences

Joshua Knox outside the walls

This story is a part of a larger series about College of Health Sciences faculty’s work outside the walls of the university and in the Milwaukee community. Read the full series here.

When Joshua Knox takes his physician assistant studies students to the weekly free clinics he oversees, they focus on patients’ basic medical needs: back pain, diabetes, vision problems, blood pressure and myriad other common complaints. But the medical clinics at the homeless resource organization Repairers of the Breach serve a purpose beyond the physical, Knox says, for patient and caregiver alike.

For the people they serve, many of whom are homeless, the clinics offer the chance to be seen as a human being, with wants, needs and humanity, says Knox, Grad ’11, a clinical professor in the Physician Assistant Studies program. Compassionate care can also play a significant role in helping people move beyond homelessness into more stable lives, he says. It means one less thing to worry about, clearing space to focus on other things.

“Coming into the clinic and having somebody listen to them, and render care and humanize them, does make a difference for their spiritual and mental well-being and aids in their recovery,” Knox says.

The medical clinic grew from Knox’s desire to give his students real-world clinical experience early in their education, while giving care to those who need it most. The facility at Repairers of the Breach has been offering once-weekly, half-day clinics to Milwaukee residents for 14 years, and has grown to include a rotating staff of working and retired physicians, PAs and volunteers. Knox takes students during fall, spring and summer semesters, and fills in himself when school’s out.

It’s an important early clinical experience for PA students that also serves to reinforce the humanity of patients of all backgrounds. Students come to see them “more as individuals, and with problems other than homelessness,” Knox says.

It’s also a chance to see how factors far beyond the body, from racism to family trauma, affect health.

“It’s a learning opportunity for the students to see a lot of those social determinants of health and those systemic injustices,” Knox says. “Because they’re all manifest, they’re right up in your face.”

For Knox, the many people who help staff the clinic have come to feel a bit like family. And the clinic itself is a touchstone he feels proud to be an integral part of. “It’s one of the enduring experiences,” he says. “If I have some tattoo, some legacy, that I put on Marquette PA, this is probably it.”