Student Health Action Coalition: Getting Involved in the Community

One of my favorite things about being in graduate school are the abundance opportunities to engage with the community outside of the classroom. I’ve been able to do this in many ways, but my most rewarding has been through the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC) free clinic in Carrboro, the town right next to Chapel Hill. The SHAC clinic is a weekly student-run free clinic on Wednesday nights that serves the greater triangle community. Most of the patients who come to SHAC are un- or under-insured and have no place to get primary health care. Not only can patients get medical care from medical students, they can see pharmacy, social work, public health, physical therapy, dental, and optometry students to help with other concerns the patient may have. Patients can also get free and confidential HIV and STD testing at the clinic. Interestingly, SHAC is the oldest, student-run clinic in the country and dates back to the 1960s. The clinic has over-come many challenges working with the community, including being burnt down by a local KKK group during the Civil Rights era.

During my first year at the School of Social Work, I was able to volunteer and complete biopsychosocial assessments with patients at the clinic. More specifically, social work students ask questions about housing, finances, employment, education, access to health care, coping/social support, mental health, and parter/family violence. Social Work students then help patients with any of these areas they need assistance. Through this, I was able to practice my interviewing skills that I was learning in the classroom and became more confident in my ability to talk and connect with clients on my own. I also learned a lot about the resources in the community, which was helpful for my field placement and my overall understanding of the city in which I live. Finally, I learned how to work with translators, as many patients in the clinic are Spanish-speaking. This year, I am one of the coordinators for the social work volunteers and have greatly enjoyed mentoring new students as they begin to volunteer.

If you’re interested in more information about SHAC, you can contact me or check out the website at


About Julia Wessel

Hi! I'm Julia Wessel and I am a concentration year student in the full time program. I am focusing on direct practice with an emphasis on child mental health. This year, my field placement is at child outpatient mental health clinic with children and their families. I am also very involved in the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC) Clinic, a weekly, student-run, free health clinic in the community. I also travelled to India with UNC-CH SSW on a study abroad trip in December 2011. I am originally from Washington, DC and I went to Kenyon College for my undergraduate education. In my free time, I love hiking and yoga and exploring North Carolina.
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