Community Health Project allows medical students hands-on summer experience

September 16, 2010 | Features, UToday
By Meghan Cunningham

It’s their last free summer of college and they could spend it doing anything they want.

UT medical students Anne White and Ernest Oh posed for a photo with children they worked with this summer at the Anne Grady Center in Toledo.

UT medical students Anne White and Ernest Oh posed for a photo with children they worked with this summer at the Anne Grady Center in Toledo.

That summer between their first and second year in The University of Toledo College of Medicine is really the last time medical students can take off to travel or spend significant time with relatives before they begin year-round clinical rotations.

But some students choose to spend that time working in the area through the Community Health Project program that pairs them with organizations that include the Area Office on Aging, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department and the Toledo Board of Community Relations.

“Of course doctors take care of the medicine, but through this summer program medical students are also learning about compassion and the working with people aspects of health care,” said Jennifer Low, who served as student director of the program and was responsible for recruiting students, getting them placed, and planning the annual banquet to celebrate the program, which took place Sept. 8.

This summer about 20 of the 180-student class participated in a Community Health Project with 13 area organizations. During the eight-week program that serves as a work-study, students learn to interact with different populations and get a better understanding of patients and how to be better patient advocates, Low said.

Anne White, who just started her second year of medical school, participated in the Community Health Project working in the Prescribed Pediatric Center of the Anne Grady Day Program taking care of the young children in the infant room.

“I had been thinking about a career in pediatrics because I love children and babies, but I wasn’t sure how I would respond to sick children who would rely on me for their care,” White said. “But I had a really positive experience there and learned that I can keep my emotions in check and do what I can to help.”

The program serves as an asset to students, but also to the organizations where they offer assistance.

Steven Kiessling, executive director of Camp Courageous in Whitehouse, said the three to five students who are placed with his organization each summer as counselors are invaluable.

“They bring a great energy to camp,” he said. “Many of our counselors are in college or a little younger, so the medical students bring more life experience and really serve as mentors in addition to working so well with our campers.”

The camp for children with special needs, founded in 1963, provides the traditional summer experience that includes art projects, nature hikes, sports and other activities. Kiessling said the approach medical students take to working with the children, some of whom need 24-hour and one-on-one care, is both professional and fun.

“They help us a great deal,” he said. “We really rely on them.”

The Community Health Project was established in 1993 by students in the Medical College of Ohio. The goal of the program is to offer firsthand experience in addressing health issues that impact the medically underserved and provide the students a broader understanding of socioeconomic, cultural and environmental factors that contribute to an individual’s health.

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