Published March 30, 2022
Medical students with an interest in dermatology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences have been coordinating community outreach events to spread educational and empowering messages.
Members of the Dermatology Interest Group (DIG) recently coordinated an event at the Hope Gardens housing program for chronically homeless women at the Matt Urban Center and spearheaded a donation of skin care products to women at Haven House, a domestic violence shelter.
The Jacobs School chapter of DIG consists of approximately 60 students and its mission is “to provide information and experiences that will expose medical students to the field of dermatology.” Lori E. Ullman, clinical associate professor and former chair of the Department of Dermatology, serves as the group’s adviser.
The goal of the outreach events was to show support for the women and to provide education about proper skin care.
Olivia Waldman, a second-year medical student and 2021-22 DIG co-president, coordinated the event at Hope Gardens and said it was inspired by a course she took during her first year of medical school called “Health in the Neighborhood.”
“We had weekly discussions about health inequities and structural racism, with the heart of the course being conversations with community members to discuss their personal experiences with the health care system,” she says.
Waldman says that as she learned more about the Buffalo community, she discovered the largest demographics living in poverty were females ages 25 to 34 and ages 18 to 24.
“I specifically wanted to focus on women’s empowerment and self-care through this project because of how this demographic reflects the same ages of many of our medical students,” Waldman says. “However, it also speaks to the drastically different life experiences just outside of the university’s walls.”
The project was funded by a community outreach grant through American Women’s Hospital Services; all of the products were donated by nonprofits or companies.
“We wanted to focus on connection, so we chose accessible, conversational dermatologic tips for how to take care of your skin,” Waldman explains.
Third-year medical student Isaac Swartzman led the student education component and chose articles for students to read beforehand so they were able to counsel participants on skin care education.
The articles he selected guided student learning on the science behind sun protection, skin conditions and complications specific to darker skin tones, and skin care for different seasons. The main educational components used were a pair of educational brochures written by Ullman, titled “Tips for Maintaining Healthy Skin” and “Your Skin and the Sun.”
Waldman says DIG tried to incorporate a “spa-like” atmosphere by playing meditational music, providing warm towels and an essential oil diffuser, and leading an activity to create homemade facial masks.
First-year medical students Michael Augustin, Iryna Dovirak, Elissa Goorman, Victoria Hoffman, Delaney Lenaghan and Natalie Nunez also took part in the event or helped in the planning.
“Connecting with women in our community, hearing their stories and witnessing their resiliency was so humbling and made me aware of my own privilege,” Waldman says. “Being able to share skin care information with women experiencing homelessness felt incredibly important for bridging the gap in health disparities.”
Anna Davis, a third-year medical student and former DIG co-president, says she was so impressed with the services Haven House provides to women who are victims of domestic violence that she was inspired to contribute donations to their clients.
“While on my family medicine rotation, we had a lecture on domestic violence where survivors spoke to us in depth about how victims often feel isolated and unsupported,” she says.
“We decided that Valentine’s Day would be a perfect opportunity to show support and compassion for the women through individual care packages,” Davis adds.
Included in the packages were the educational pamphlets authored by Ullman; a Valentine’s Day card with an inspirational message from DIG about female empowerment and inner strength created by Hoffman and Ullman; Valentine’s Day-themed chocolates; the donated skin care products that Waldman received for the Hope Gardens visit; a homemade face mask recipe created by Dovirak; and all-natural soap bars donated by second-year medical student and 2021-22 DIG co-president Elizabeth Quaye.
The care packages were assembled by Davis, Nunez, Quaye and Waldman and delivered to a Haven House employee at a neutral location by Davis on Feb. 14.
“Although we were unable to interact with the women directly due to the confidential status of the shelter, I am extremely appreciative to have had the opportunity to collaborate with this worthy organization and come up with a creative way to reach these survivors during this critical time in their lives,” Davis says.
“It has been very rewarding to serve this community. The strength with which these women have survived severe trauma is truly admirable,” she adds. “We wanted to let them know that we care. Having this opportunity to provide skin care education and support through a Valentine’s Day gift package was our way of letting them know we are here to support their journey of health, well-being and empowerment.”
Allison Brashear, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, says she’s pleased to see UB medical students interacting with community members to share their knowledge on such important topics as skin care and self-care.
“It is especially heartening to see them spreading messages of empowerment to vulnerable populations in our community,” Brashear adds. “The most effective way to dispel health disparities is through direct educational outreach.”
Both Waldman and Davis say that Ullman guided the projects from start to finish.
“We used her skin care educational materials to educate and counsel participants and she provided support, guidance and insight into how we could champion and encourage the women we worked with.”
Ullman says she met with the students frequently as the two community projects were being developed and took part in each of the programs with the students.
“As part of my mentoring them, I shared that choosing to draw on the positive, in the form of positive words, written or spoken, can impart vital support to those facing great personal challenges and create for them a sense of empowerment,” she says. “I shared what powerful tools words can be — for good, in bringing optimism, or for ill — and emphasized that positive begets positive.”
Ullman says she believes the students benefited from sharing themselves with the greater community, and developed an improved understanding of the broader makeup of the community.
“They experienced firsthand that we have gifts to give and to receive from everyone we meet,” she says. “They had an opportunity to experience how enriched we are by what we give and what we receive from those who face challenges that may be different — or not so different —from our own challenges.”
Ullman also says the students learned much about the specialty of dermatology through teaching it to the women who participated in the community outreach programs.
“Our volunteer students learned about their level of understanding and about their devotion to their career choice of specialty from teaching about it, while also gaining a greater understanding of the value of skin care in maintaining general health and well-being, and preventing illness,” she says.
“The students learned how to be better listeners and how to be better communicators. I saw them at their best and am very proud of how they represented themselves and how they represented our school in our community.”