volunteers and One Tent founders stand outside the tent
Category: Health Magazine, Summer 2023

Title:Contemplation in action

Author: Gabrielle Barone, Heather Wilpone-Wellborn
Date Published: June 20, 2023

A discussion of HIV epidemiology and rates in Washington, DC, in Professor Heidi Elmendorf’s science pedagogy class at Georgetown inspired Mackenzie Copley (C’15) and David Schaffer (C’14) to serve the city’s residents. Together they founded an organization called One Tent Health to provide HIV screenings to residents in areas ranked as highly affected with HIV cases.

The two Hoyas decided to begin One Tent after graduation. Since they were both busy with other full-time responsibilities, “One Tent was founded between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., in meetings on Skype or Zoom,” recalls Schaffer.

From 2015 to 2017, Copley and Schaffer prepared for the launch of One Tent Health, figuring out logistics like how to purchase test kits, apply for grants, and create clinical policies and contracts.

“Our launch day was really nerve-wracking for us because we had just invested two years of our lives into this project,” Schaffer says. They set their tent up next to a grocery store and it was busy right away.

When the pandemic hit, they discovered that tents were well-suited to help administer COVID-19 tests. “We said, ‘Wait a second, we have this great model where we can get patients in and out really fast,’” Schaffer says. They’ve since administered 12,000 COVID-19 tests.

In 2018, the pair presented at the U.S. Conference on HIV and AIDS, and recently presented to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Division of HIV Prevention.

The program also includes undergraduate volunteers from other local universities who can gain clinical experience—one of whom decided to go onto medical school after his time volunteering.

“It’s all about the people we’re serving,” Schaffer says, noting that he also “really liked the idea of giving students a pretty unique opportunity to engage with these communities in a hands-on clinical space. It’s otherwise very hard to get that type of experience as a 19–20 year old.”

“Currently, we have about 100 volunteers at Georgetown,” says Makenzie Thomas (H’24), a member of their student advisory board. “One Tent Health doesn’t require a minimum time commitment, and I think this flexibility makes it easier for students to help out when they can. I kept coming back to volunteer with the organization because it helped me confirm my own aspirations towards medicine as a career and I get to learn about health care disparities from being out in the community.”

Schaffer also finds this hands-on interaction enjoyable in his own career as an emergency medicine physician.

“When it comes to these values, like cura personalis and what we learned at Georgetown, having that direct and proximal encounter with a patient is something that really motivated me every day, something I continue to find really rewarding.”

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