January 17, 1997

Community Scholars Program set to track students’ involvement

Featured Image

Dr. Deborah German, associate dean for Students, is conducting a study of students' community involvement habits.

Community Scholars Program set to track students' involvement

A Vanderbilt University School of Medicine associate dean plans to study community-oriented students over the next several years to see if those students who are active in the community have more long-term interest and involvement in the community when they become practicing physicians.

Dr. Deborah C. German, Associate Dean for Students, believes that medical students who are involved in caring for those in the community may be better community leaders and contributors than those students who do not choose to become involved.

German is one of 25 Harvard Macy Institute scholars selected from a national pool to participate in a professional development program for physician-educators. German spent this week at Harvard University training to administer VUSM's Community Scholars Program for Medical Students.

The proposed project, expected to begin this summer, is an internship for first-year medical students that may extend into the curriculum of the second and fourth years. This summer between six and eight medical students, working in pairs with faculty mentors and members of the community, will identify a community-related need, design a program to address that need, and will develop an evaluation process to determine the program's effectiveness. When the program is in full swing German hopes to attract about 20 medical students.

"I've taken a particular interest in student involvement in the community for a number of reasons," German said. "Vanderbilt medical students seem to be more interested in serving others and in community projects than are most medical students."

In a preliminary survey of the first-year class, more than half indicated they would be interested in participating in this type of program.

Possible community projects might be educating adolescents and teenagers about trauma prevention or making sure that children who have done poorly in vision screenings receive the help they need.

German said she believes the community scholars program will benefit the students, the community and Vanderbilt.

"We're hoping to make a difference not only in the community, but in the students' lives. We're hoping that by participating in community health-related projects the students will contribute long-term to the community.

"It's a win for the students because instead of flipping burgers for summer jobs to earn money to come back to medical school, they get a stipend to do something that's very closely allied with the reason they came to medical school — to serve and help others."

The community will obviously benefit from the work of the students and Vanderbilt will benefit by seeing its students become leaders in community-related health care issues, she said.

In the program's follow-up, German will study the students during medical school and residency then at 5, 10 and 15 years into practice.

Students who applied for the program but were not selected because of limited space will also be followed as a comparison group.

The idea of medical students working with faculty members to provide a valuable service to the community is by no means new to VUSM, German said.

German and other Vanderbilt University Medical Center faculty members have already been working independently with students who want to become involved in the community.

"I believe there are many students who work with faculty members on projects like this. This program will allow us to bring the students together so they can brainstorm with one another about individual projects. This will allow a broader base of support and will allow us to find financial support for these projects."

German said that of the current fourth-year class, about 90 percent have participated in some significant community service.

"That's pretty significant. That says something about our students, about their motives and ideals. It also says if our students continue to be like the class of 1997, which I think they will, our program will have lots of potential participants."

German said the scholarly part of the program involves students studying the impact of their programs on the community. The students will be encouraged to publish their findings.

German said she has four goals for the project: that the students will become leaders; that they will engage in scholarly activities evaluating the program outcome; that the students will deliver a service to the community; and that attributes of professionalism will be stressed in the program.

"Both my personal philosophy and the philosophy of this medical school are entwined in this program."