Two Wayne State University medical students are changing what it means to treat the whole patient, one pair of shoes at a time.
When Susan Wager and Nina Bourdeau started their rotation at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, sorting shoes was never part of the plan but has become a highlight of their experience.
“I’ve experienced more gratitude bringing shoes to patients than maybe anything else in my year rotating at the hospital,” said Wager.
It’s an unlikely pair of gently used shoes and health care, but Wager and Bourdeau said someone dealing with homelessness inspired them to think otherwise.
“We ended up having this patient leaving the hospital walking out of the hospital in just a pair of yellow hospital socks, back onto the streets,” Wager said.
“We’re like, ‘How is this happening in our hospital,’” said Bourdeau. “And ‘How can you leave and walk home and not have safe footwear on?’”
That was July 2022. Within weeks they stepped up and created their own initiative, Street Kicks.
“We’ve had donations come as far from Las Vegas to DC from family and friends sending them, Wager said. “We went to each floor of this hospital during lunch for two or three weeks just looking for a place to put our shoes.”
They ended up finding a small closet in a workroom for doctors and residents.
“We have fliers up at all of the nurse’s stations and in the resident work rooms that just kind of lets them know where the shoes are,” Bourdeau said.
In less than a year, they collected 200 donations and have given out more than 50 patients a pair of shoes.
“I had the sweet lady last year, and she’s like, ‘Every time I wear these shoes, I will think of you,” Bourdeau said. “I’m going to think of the hospital.’ She was just beaming, and it was so cool to see. It is all kind of tied together; if they don’t have adequate shoes, they may roll an ankle, they may cut their foot as they’re walking down the street, and then they’re right back in the hospital.”
Wager says the meaning is much deeper than just comfortable shoes.
“When we’re able to show a patient that we can not only give them medical care, medicine surgery, but we can also provide them with basic needs that they otherwise wouldn’t have,” Wager said. “It shows that we really are caring for the whole patient.”
She said it’s the most rewarding experience they’ve had in medical school.
“Just seeing the smile on these patients’ faces and their gratitude when we’re able to provide them with shoes has been so important to me and just re-instills, in the long days and when we’re writing our applications and all of that, why I want it to be a doctor in the first place,” Wagner said.
Street Kicks has a donation box on Wayne State University’s campus. You can also email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow them on Instagram @streetkicksdetroit.