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Med students serve community before studies begin

Medical School Day of Service

Students rake in Linear Park on Tyler Street in University Heights. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published August 14, 2014

“This is a huge and important way for our students to learn about disparities in the community and about cultural competency, in addition to what our students learn in the classroom and with their preceptors.”
David Milling, senior associate dean
School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Service learning — where students put what they’re learning to work by volunteering in the community — has been steadily growing in popularity at the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, with more than half of medical students taking the service learning elective.

This year, there’s a new twist: For the first time, all incoming UB medical students will be required to log at least 10 hours of service learning annually for all four years of medical school.

To kick off this new requirement and give classmates a chance to work together before classes started on Monday, the medical school held its inaugural Medical Student Day of Service last Saturday.

Nearly half of the incoming class took part. Sixty first-year students joined 10 upperclassmen at sites that included:

  • Buffalo City Mission Thrift Shop, where students sorted and organized donations.
  • Habitat for Humanity, where students constructed a shed from the ground up at a new home at 324 14th St.
  • Linear Park, where students helped the University Heights Collaborative and Heath Street Block Club clean up the Tyler Street park.
  • St. Lawrence Parish, where students assisted in stocking and organizing the Food Pantry, “Clothes Closet” and Pediatric Clinic at the East Side Catholic church.
  • Griffon Park,, where students, working with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, weeded, watered and provide maintenance at the Niagara Falls park.

Some of the upperclassmen that participated are members of the UB chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, which promotes humanism in medicine at U.S. medical schools. Several UB medical school faculty members also took part.

Medical School Day of Service

Students work to build a shed at a Habitat for Humanity house on 14th Street on the West Side. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

One of the best parts of the day, according to Debra Stamm, assistant dean for student services, was the non-stop interaction between first-year students and upperclassmen. “The incoming students said it was so nice to be able to ask questions about med school — what was it really like — and to have a group goal working on a project,” said Stamm, who roamed between the various job sites.

Students working at the Habitat for Humanity house built a shed from the ground up. A. John Ryan Jr., UB clinical associate professor of medicine and an attending physician at Erie County Medical Center, served as a facilitator with those students. Ryan, Stamm related, told students that “Medicine is a helping profession. Today, we’re helping people; we’re just using different tools.”

While the increased emphasis on service learning is part of a national trend, it also builds on the medical school’s strong, historic service learning orientation, says David Milling, senior associate dean for student and academic affairs in the UB medical school.

In 2001, students established the Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic and they play an integral role in operating it today. Medical students also work at clinics throughout the city and with such community organizations as the Buffalo City Mission, Cornerstone Manor, Good Neighbors Health Care, Jericho Road Community Health Center and Friends of the Night People.

UB medical students also volunteer through a variety of programs with the Buffalo Public Schools, including Tar Wars, the tobacco-free education program for elementary school children.

“This is a huge and important way for our students to learn about disparities in the community and about cultural competency, in addition to what our students learn in the classroom and with their preceptors,” says Milling. “This is cultural competency in action.

“Our message to our students is: You’re going to be in Buffalo for at least four years,” he says. “’Part of your mission as a medical student is to contribute to leaving Buffalo a better place than when you came here.”

The Medical Student Day of Service is sponsored by Polity, the UB medical student governing body; UB’s Office of Medical Education; the UB chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society; the UB Medical Alumni Association; and the Wendel Endowment.