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Mapping a Difference: Roane State student charts Remote Area Medical services

Submitted by: 
Roane State Community College

Roane State Community College Geographic Information Systems (GIS)  said she has “loved maps since I was a little kid.”

“They’re like putting together a puzzle that has lots of pieces. Maps allow you to discover what’s there and what’s not there,” she said. 

Maps that Zerr recently designed are helping people discover where they can find affordable and often much-needed medical care.

As an honors project for Roane State, Zerr focused on an organization that benefits thousands of people. Remote Area Medical, or RAM as most people know it, was established in 1985 by Stan Brock to provide basic medical care through mobile clinic events in underserved, isolated or impoverished communities.

Services are offered on a free, sliding scale or charitable basis through participating clinics. A list of clinics in Tennessee exists, but many of the care providers working with RAM are from out of state and have no idea of Tennessee geography.

RAM volunteer Star Lakavage contacted Pat Wurth, Roane State GIS program director, to check if Wurth had a student who might be interested in creating maps for RAM. Wurth contacted Zerr in January and suggested the project. Zerr went to work on the enormous task of mapping all 61 participating clinics in East, Middle and West Tennessee.

Zerr worked from a list consisting of the name, address and phone number of participating organizations.  Accessing the United States Post Office website, Zerr verified and corrected all of the clinic addresses.  Next, she used ArcGIS application to create three different map layouts, each designed with points, lines, and polygons to indicate location, county, and city borders.  She also created a legend to differentiate what services are offered at each participating location. 

At the request of RAM, Zerr also listed pertinent, detailed information for each clinic on the reverse of each map. This would allow anyone serviced at a RAM clinic to seek follow-up care at a participating health facility according to their individual needs.

“Patients were appreciative of having this resource and many stated never knowing so many options existed,” said Rebecca Barnum, a registered nurse and medical lead for RAM. “This project has benefited both patients and RAM staff in finding a bridge to help those without primary care coverage connect with possible long-term care providers. I am grateful and inspired that a student would invest the time and consideration to complete this project for the betterment of the statewide community and for the future of those it serves.”

Lakavage said the maps are valuable resources.

“Like we always say in GIS, you never see the problem/possibilities until you put it in a map,” Lakavage said.

Zerr earned her bachelor’s degree in 1992 in an unrelated field. She took a few GIS courses at Roane State in 1997 but returned in June 2014 to earn her degree. She will finish the program this fall.

Roane State offers a one-year certificate and a two-year degree in Geographic Information Systems. For more information, visit roanestate.edu/gis or contact Wurth at (865) 354-3000 ext. 2275 or wurthpa@roanestate.edu.

Tennessee’s Community Colleges is a system of 13 colleges offering a high-quality, affordable, convenient and personal education to prepare students to achieve their educational and career goals in two years or less. All colleges in the system offer associate degree and certificate programs, workforce development programs and transfer pathways to four-year degrees. For more information, please visit tncommunitycolleges.org.

To learn more about Remote Area Medical, call (865) 579-1530 or visit ramusa.org.