OMEGA -- Health care students from four North Georgia universities are in Moultrie this week and next providing free or low cost health care to migrant farm workers and their families.

The undergraduate and graduate students from Clayton State University, Emory University, Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University are here because of the Farm Workers Family Health Program, sponsored by the Georgia Department of Community Health.

The students' majors range from nursing and dental hygiene to physical therapy and psychology.

Every night during their stay in South Georgia, the students and faculty travel to a "barrio," a Hispanic neighborhood, and erect a roving infirmary, complete with a mobile pharmacy, to treat myriad problems from scoliosis to toothaches.

Each student's degree has a community health requirement that mandates the student do either hands-on work with a "vulnerable population" or speak to a classroom about health care issues. So, why have scores of students chosen to spend at least a week battling the brutal sun and the pesky gnats that mark South Georgia's summer?

"I'm doing this because I'm interested in community service and public work," says Angela Wittenauer, 27, an Emory University undergraduate nursing student.

D.J. Smith, a member of Emory's nursing faculty, says the students love the "total immersion" the program allows them to experience.

Tuesday night, the women worked at Gibbs Patrick Farms in Tift County near Omega. They saw between 75 and 100 patients, many of whom complained of back problems that stem from long hours of field work.

"It's shocking to see the health condition of these people," remarked Wittenauer.

Each patient had the opportunity to visit several stations at the makeshift medical center, including places to test blood pressure and diabetes. The "clinic" even had a building where Clayton State University undergraduate dental hygiene students cleaned teeth and applied sealants.

Earlier in the day, the students set up shop at Sunset Elementary School where Colquitt County is holding its migrant education program.

All 500 children in the program will be seen at some point during the next week and a half by a future health care worker.

The women spoke about how appreciative children and adults alike seemed to be about the health care they received.

Another Emory nursing undergrad, Brooke Ivey, 21, tested hemoglobin levels in the children at Sunset Tuesday. She recalled, "One kid told me, 'I remember this from last year. It's going to hurt.'"

Not only have Ivey and others honed their medical skills, they've used this opportunity to brush up on another language.

"It's good to practice your Spanish skills," Ivey said. Fellow nursing student Anne Betz quickly added, "or lack of."

Tony Brown, director of migrant health for the Georgia Department of Community Health says programs like the one going on now are important for a number of reasons, one of which is cost.

Many of these migrants, Brown says, don't qualify for Medicaid because they aren't United States citizens. But, lest some complain the migrants are getting the health care the students provide for free or at a reduced price, Brown says we all benefit from their work.

Their inexpensive labor, he says, means lower prices for products like produce at the grocery store.

Javier Francisco, 25, said through an interpreter he likes having the nurses come because the health care they provide is free and because "they don't ask for any forms."

This is the ninth year the program has reached into Colquitt County and its vast migrant population. Betz says she sees why it's so popular.

"These farm workers want us to be here. They need us to be here."

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