After Dr. Jim Withers pioneered 'street medicine' the world took notice.
What began as a small endeavor 1992 has blossomed into a worldwide movement that is reshaping how some folks access medical care. With a formerly homeless friend, Dr. Jim Withers packed his backpack full of medical supplies and took to the streets.
Now, through Operation Safety Net—the non-profit he founded—Withers and small groups of medical students travel through the city five nights a week to give medical assistance to homeless folks. ‘Street medicine’ is a term Dr. Withers coined himself with the philosophy that homeless folks are unlikely to seek out medical treatment when they’re sick, so we should bring treatment to them. Some treatments are minor fixes, others have led to hospitalization.
“Besides just the good that it does and the money that it saves, having street medicine in every community transforms us. We begin to see that we’re all in this together.”
Since starting out in the early 1990s, Withers estimates his organization has treated more than 1200 folks. That’s not counting the 85 organizations around the world who’ve started initiatives mirroring Operation Safety Net.
Withers believes this is not only a benefit for the individuals in need of medical care, but creates a more healthy, empathetic community as a whole.
“Everybody matters. We need to look out for the people who are the most ostracized in our communities. That will make us better people,” Withers told Nationswell.
His teams are small—no bigger than four people—so as not to invade the space of those they treat.
Speaking on the experience of his medical students, Withers told CNN, “The street classroom really ignites, or reignites, what their passion is. They feel like, ‘Yes, this is what it’s about.’ And they carry that forward. I think the lessons the homeless can teach us about finding humanity and listening to people are transcendent in all of healthcare.”
Feature photo: CNN