Tech students organize free Remote Area Medical clinic March 16-17

Sorting supplies for the Upper Cumberland RAM clinic set for March 16-17 are, left, Alexander Coker, event lead, and Ethan Levoy, hospitality lead.
Tech students sorting supplies for the Upper Cumberland RAM clinic set for March 16-17 are, left, Alexander Coker, event lead, and Ethan Levoy, hospitality lead.

In just a couple of weeks, Cookeville High School’s lobby and gym will be transformed into a free temporary medical clinic – and a group of Tennessee Tech University student leaders who host the event each year have been preparing for months already.

The group, made up of students in health-related majors and advised by chemistry senior instructor Janet Coonce, works in conjunction with the Cookeville Regional Medical Center Foundation to host the Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic each year – and it’s not a simple task.

“CRMC Foundation partners with the student Community Host Group helping plan local support for the clinic,” said John Bell, CRMC Foundation executive director. “Volunteers work tirelessly for the two days of the clinic, and it takes a year-round commitment to coordinate meals, lodging and facility use.”

That planning and organizing is all Tech student-led, and it takes 200 to 300 volunteers each day and costs between $15,000 and $20,000 each year, he said. 

At last year’s clinic, dental services provided 927 extractions, 174 fillings and 68 cleanings. Vision care provided glasses for 446 patients, and more than 120 patients attended specifically for medical exams. Thanks to generous volunteers and donors, all RAM clinic services are provided at no cost to patients.

Most of the clinic’s volunteers are specialized health care providers – doctors, dentists and optometrists who will see patients on a first-come, first-served basis on the Saturday and Sunday of the event, to be held this year March 16-17.

Other volunteers assist with set-up on the Friday before the event, parking, meal service and clean-up.

“We need volunteers at the clinic 24/7 because people are coming and going at all times to try to be seen by the doctors, dentists and optometrists,” said Tech student Alexander Coker, the event lead this year.

Coonce added, “Another significant need is for volunteers to help clean up on Sunday at 2 p.m., when the RAM clinic wraps up. We take pride in leaving CHS better than we found it, but that takes an incredible amount of service for the grounds to be ready for school on Monday morning.”

Those needs are dwarfed by the benefits provided by the RAM clinic to both patients and students, organizers said.

It provides more than $350,000 in medical, dental and optometric care to people in the Upper Cumberland each year, while giving Tech students with health-related majors an experiential opportunity to shadow seasoned medical professional volunteers.

Tech nursing students assist with triage, while nutrition students from the quantity food production class have breakfast hot and ready each morning at 5 a.m. and clean the kitchen so it’s food service-ready on Monday morning. Local churches and restaurants also pitch in to provide other meals to the volunteers.

Money needed for the event is raised in several ways.

“The Golden Helix 5K race each October raises money for our Cookeville RAM Clinic, chemistry student organizations and Tech Foundation Scholarships, and the CRMC Charitable Foundation matches the amount raised for the clinic,” Coker said.

Donations for the RAM Clinic can be made directly to the CRMC Foundation at Those wishing to give can click on the “give now” button at the top right, and select Upper Cumberland RAM Clinic from the dropdown menu.

Last year’s clinic served nearly 600 unique patients, with more than 330 – about 61 percent – attending a RAM clinic for the first time, and many received multiple types of care.

Of the total number of patients, about half traveled roughly 20 miles to get to the clinic, evidence that the Cookeville location serves as a hub for the entire Upper Cumberland region. However, 73 patients traveled more than 100 miles and 19 traveled more than 200 miles to receive care last year.

While 122 medical, 95 vision and 130 dental patients reported not having received such care in 10 years or more, the clinic isn’t just for people without insurance. Organizers emphasize that the clinic is open to anyone needing care.

“All RAM clinic services are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. No identification is required, and patients are invited to get in line at the CHS student parking lot on Friday evening,” Coonce said.

Patients should be prepared to wait in their cars overnight. Medical services are offered to all patients attending the clinic. Many individuals receive multiple types of care, but each patient may be asked to prioritize between dental and vision services.

For more information, visit the Remote Area Medical Clinic website at


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