Vol. 12 No. 3 - October, 2009

Medical students as advocates

Helping future physicians connect with their communities

SOM advocacy
Robert Carlin Photography
School of Medicine ’10 students Myrlene Jeudy, Jay Lawrence and Jochebed Pink demonstrated a range of approaches to their third-year medicine clerkship advocacy projects.

 As important to a medical student’s development as clinical and communication skills, the concept of advocacy is interwoven throughout the School of Medicine (SOM) curriculum. A specific educational experience intended to cultivate this competency is a required independent project during the third-year medicine clerkship. “In addition to advocacy as a competency,* it is a component of the UMMS mission,” noted Melissa A. Fischer, MD, MEd, associate professor of medicine and associate dean for undergraduate medical education, who is responsible for the SOM curriculum design, management and implementation. “The project’s core vision is for students to reflect concretely on what advocacy means to them, and how they will incorporate it into practice,” she explained. “The assignment is intentionally open-ended to encourage and recognize students’ individual interests and priorities so that their projects are personally relevant.”

The diverse explorations of advocacy undertaken by students are exemplified by several projects completed by members of the SOM class of 2010. Wanting to reconnect with her church community where she had volunteered before medical school and found support in pursuing her own goals, Jochebed Pink created and presented to her congregation a slideshow about hypertension. “By giving people knowledge you empower them to have more control over their health,” said Pink. “People shared their own experiences, providing a good amount of teaching themselves.” With her audience eager to learn more, she plans to develop similar presentations about diabetes, colon cancer and breast cancer.

Underscoring her belief that self-care is essential to being a good doctor, Myrlene Jeudy focused on medical students grappling with depression. “We all learn how to talk to a patient and refer them for mental health services if necessary— but not how to do that for a colleague,” she explained. Galvanized by research showing that depression among medical students, especially in the clinical years, is more prevalent than expected, Jeudy produced an educational video comprising interviews with mental health experts and students at UMMS. Plans are underway to make the video widely available.

In addition to writing a health article for the African Radiant, Worcester’s free newspaper for its largely medically underserved African immigrant population, Jay Lawrence further encouraged other students to do the same to provide continuity for the project’s goal of transmitting health information via established media outlets in the community. “It was very gratifying to pick up a recent copy of the Radiant and find another article written by a UMMS student,” said Lawrence. His project has been added to the list of suggested projects through which future clerkship students can fulfill their advocacy requirement.

“The medicine clerkship advocacy

project is consistent with the emphasis of the curriculum redesign underway at the School of Medicine on enhancing experiential learning and supporting our students’ growth in many aspects of clinical skills."

Melissa Fischer, MD

 Other students’ creative approaches to exploring and performing advocacy include testing the accuracy of blood pressure cuffs in retail pharmacies to help ensure they are a useful tool for consumers; talking to grade schoolers about bicycle safety; and creating and distributing laminated cards illustrating skin cancers to barbers who spend their days looking at customers’ scalps. “The medicine clerkship advocacy project is consistent with the emphasis of the curriculum redesign underway at the School of Medicine on enhancing experiential learning and supporting our students’ growth in many aspects of clinical skills,” concluded Dr. Fischer.

 


*“Physician as patient and community advocate” is one of the six competencies that form the foundation for the School of Medicine (SOM) curriculum. The goal of this competency is to prepare graduates to act as patient advocates by helping individuals in need and elevating the health of populations; understanding the importance of educating the entire community about health-related issues; and recognizing physicians’ responsibility to contribute to the larger community.