There were many attributes that attracted Alex Friedman to Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine for her undergraduate medical career; and she hasn’t regretted her decision. That being said, during her first year of medical school in 2010, the transplant from South Carolina wished that Feinberg had a pre-orientation program to immerse incoming students in their new environment so they could learn more about the diversity of the city’s neighborhoods and the opportunities that abound to help the underserved.
As co-president of the Family Medicine Interest Group, Alex shared these thoughts with her leadership counterpart and classmate, Brandi Jackson, and the two soon began talking with deans in the Augusta Webster, MD, Office of Medical Education (AWOME) and planning an introduction for incoming students that blended service and learning across the city.
“We wanted a way to quickly involve the new students in things outside of school to connect them with the community,” explains Friedman. “We wanted them to think about how medicine is different in these neighborhoods and we wanted activities that would provide a framework for the determinants of health.”
Adds Jackson, “As physicians, we need to know more about our patients and where they come from, viewing medicine in the context of real people and real problems. Getting out in the community makes this possible.”
As good ideas often do when they gather a head of steam, the concept grew into something bigger than originally envisioned. After seven months of planning and critical support from *AWOME, the Department of Family and Community Medicine, and the Department of Preventive Medicine, a four-day pilot program, “Destination: Chicago, An Immersion Experience in Community Health & Service,” was created to introduce a small group of participants to some of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods while covering topics like food deserts, exercise, nutrition, safety and violence, refugees, and homelessness.
One week prior to the rush of Orientation, 15 students from the Class of 2015, led by rising second-years, visited six Chicago neighborhoods and met with local leaders and representatives from outreach organizations to learn about the populations they serve, the health issues they face, and the programs they offer. The new students became more familiar with these communities by using public transportation and walking the streets, by eating in local restaurants and talking to residents, and by gaining hands-on experience through group service projects. In addition, prominent Feinberg faculty made sure they had a good grounding in public and community health. On their final day together, Bechara Choucair, MD, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health and adjunct professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Feinberg, gave a keynote address about Public Health’s new guidelines for implementing Healthy People 2020.
What’s the draw?
One hour after the e-mail invitation was sent out about the Destination: Chicago pilot, the program had reached its capacity. Incoming students were interested for a number of reasons, including meeting their classmates before orientation, learning about the different communities and how to navigate the city, interacting with second-year students, and finding out about service opportunities.
Elaine Coldren, who hails from the Chicago suburbs, was one of the initiates who secured a spot. “I wanted to get a better idea of what some parts of the city were like,” she explains. “Even though I had previously used Chicago’s public transportation, I still felt like the program helped me acclimate. We ventured into many new places I had never seen before; I saw many shops and restaurants in the neighborhoods that I would like to visit in the future.”
Adina Goldberger was especially interested in community medicine and learning about the opportunities that are available to work with underserved populations in the inner city. “My favorite part of the experience was visiting the Erie Clinic. It is by far the most impressive and comprehensive free/sliding-scale-pay clinic I have ever seen!”
By providing introductions and contacts for service organizations and their leaders, Destination: Chicago organizers also hope to help foster the development of future learning projects in these communities.
“I think Destination: Chicago was a terrific idea and well implemented; a true collaboration between students and faculty,” says John X. Thomas, senior associate dean for medical education at Feinberg. “It truly was an example of how we can familiarize students with the communities and the cultures in our own back yard.
“Under the first-phase rollout of the new curriculum in the 2012/13 academic year, we will be incorporating an experience we’re calling ‘Textbook Chicago,’ which will introduce students to six Chicago communities to assess the determinants of health, perform a health risk appraisal, and develop a behavior change plan. After seeing how much interest was sparked by Destination: Chicago, we’re confident this new curricular element will be well received.”
*The medical students are grateful for the support they received from the following individuals in creating the pilot: Sandra Sanguino, MD, MPH, associate dean for student programs and career development; Rebecca Wurtz, MD, MPH, associate clinical professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine, Terry Long, coordinator in the Department of Family and Community Medicine; and Ingrid Masterton, PT, instructor in physical medicine and rehabilitation.