July 25, 1997

Summer program sends medical students into area communities

Summer program sends medical students into area communities

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As part of the Community Scholars Program, second-year medical student John Parrott conducts a vision screening test on four-year-old Kyle Abrams at Polly's Day Care Center on Edmonson Pike. Photo by Donna Marie Jones.

Nine Vanderbilt University School of Medicine students are putting their schooling to good use in several Nashville neighborhoods this summer, thanks to a groundbreaking new educational initiative.

The Community Scholars Program, the first of its kind at VUMC, is aimed at promoting leadership, scholarship, community service and professionalism in medical students.

"I am very excited about working on this project," said Marwan Khalifeh, a Community Scholars participant. "This is a very good opportunity for us to do some community service work while at the same time doing something more academic than just going out into the field and painting houses. This is a great combination of applying the academic side to community service."

The students, who have all completed their first year of medical school, were selected from among 20 applicants. In addition to Khalifeh, they are Ellen Parker, Jennifer Domm, John Parrott, Carolyn Quinn, Noble Maleque, Joshua Thomas, Patricia Chu and Brian Gelbman.

"This is an academic-oriented project that involves community service," said Dr. Deborah C. German, associate dean for Students and developer of the program. "We are taking what the students know and do best, research and problem solving, and applying it to the community.

"The first two years of medical school are very demanding and they take students away from patients. It has to be that way because they need to learn the basic science medicine. But with a program like this, students have the opportunity to re-connect with the reason that brought them to medical school, which is helping people."

Program projects include screening pre-school community children for eye disorders that can cause blindness, developing an injury and trauma prevention program to teach to high schools students, producing recorded health promotion programs for high school students, educating women in the community about menopause and developing a smoking cessation program on the Vanderbilt campus.

For 10 weeks the students will work on developing these five projects. By the end of the summer, they should have a program ready for implementation.

"The goal is for every student to research their topic area and to learn what has been done and what is being done and where the cutting edge is in research on their topic. Then, with the help of their faculty advisor, they will design a program that is reasonable and implementable in this community," said German.

The students will also, with the help of statistician George Reed, Ph.D., assistant professor of Preventive Medicine, develop a tool to study the outcome of the program.

In addition to developing the projects, the students will also hear panel presentations by experts from Meharry Medical School and VUMC.

The Community Scholars Program is sponsored in part by the Tennessee Women in Medicine, the Lions Club, Nashville pediatrician Dr. William Wadlington, as well as several departments at VUMC.

The Vanderbilt Center for Health Services, under the direction of Barbara Clinton, will be serving as the headquarters for the project.

"There is a need for this kind of connection between students who are involved in the intensive course of study in the medical school and communities that need the expertise and the energy that the students have to offer, along with their willingness and desire to help," said Clinton.

The students are thrilled about this new opportunity to help residents while working in their interest area.

"This project is unique," said program participant Joshua Thomas. "We will be doing research and are contributing to the community. We get to impact people's lives, which is a great feeling after having your head stuck in a book for a year in medical school. It gives me a little bit of a reminder about why I am in medical school."

The program will also help the students decide which avenue of medicine they want to pursue.

"I have given some thought about going into pediatrics and I believe this program will help me understand their health issues and how to communicate with them," said participant Patricia Chu.

Community Scholars participant Noble Maleque agrees.

"I am looking to this program to help me learn how to take a project from something that is in the back of my mind to paper and then into reality," she said.

The students will receive a stipend for their 10-week project and will have the option to continue the project as independent study during the regular school year.

It's hoped additional projects will be added as the program continues through the year.

"We are hoping to make a difference. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here," said Marwan Khalifeh. "I believe we will."