Lights, Camera, Action! Street Rounds with Dr. Jim Withers

by Pierre Kobierski

It was February sixth, a rainy Monday morning in Isla Vista. I popped open my umbrella and walked to my car, excited to pick up Dr. Jim Withers at “Casa Jason” (the home of our Medical Director), where he stayed while in Santa Barbara. He greeted me at the door with a gentle smile and invited me in for some hot coffee before we left. I wrapped my cold hands around the warm mug and we talked a bit about the news, his trip, and the film crew that was following him around. Then, at nine o’clock, we headed to the KZSB radio station downtown. On the air with hosts Ed Girun and Maria Long (our Executive Director), we spoke about a variety of topics, including homelessness, street medicine, and advocacy.

Click here to listen to the radio show: Community Matters with Dr. Withers

Dr. Withers (left) with radio host, Ed Girun (right)

Dr. Jim Withers is the founder of street medicine – the act of bringing healthcare to the people, wherever they are. He started treating patients on the streets of Pittsburgh twenty-four years ago. Since then, an international network of nearly 100 street medicine programs has emerged, which he works diligently to support and expand. The movement caught the attention of documentarian Jeff Sewald, who decided to make a film about it. Our street medicine program was one of seven worldwide that Jeff, his film crew, and Dr. Withers decided to visit while producing the film.

Matt, cinematographer, followed Dr. Withers around Santa Barbara with his camera

After the radio show, we prepared to go on street rounds with Dr. Withers and the film crew. Our team included a physician, nurse, scribe, and logistician. It was warm and the sun was low in the sky as we took to State street with backpacks full of medical supplies. Hayley, our nurse, approached each individual with an incomparable charm that could come only from years of experience. Once introduced, we gave each person socks, water, and a granola bar, then asked if they needed medical attention. If no, we kept on walking. If yes, Dr. Polito listened intently to the patient’s story, examined them, and came up with a treatment plan suited to their needs. While she worked, I transcribed the encounter and Matt, our logistician, was ready to provide any medications or tools that she might need. The film crew followed close behind, recording encounters (with permission) and interviewing patients, many of whom were excited to be on film and share their stories. They told me they got a lot of great footage, which was no surprise given how much fun we all had that evening.

The street rounds team, including (left to right), Hayley, Matt, Pierre (me), Dr. Withers, and Dr. Polito

When I asked Jeff why he decided to make a documentary about street medicine, he told me he was inspired by Dr. Withers’s story and wanted the world to know about the work he was doing. Dr. Withers agreed to participate on the condition that the film would focus on the global street medicine movement, and not just on himself. Now, as they travel around the world, filming different organizations, Jeff hopes to capture the invariable essence of street medicine: meeting people where they are. The ultimate goal of the documentary, which we support wholeheartedly, is to make street medicine a core component of medical education and practice.

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April 18th, 2017|