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UMass Medical School students study population health through community lens

Homelessness, racism and health of emergency care providers among dozens of topics explored

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

November 03, 2020
One of the Population Health Clerkship project teams studied Worcester’s homeless population and explored homelessness as a chronic condition.

Thirty-four teams of School of Medicine and Graduate School of Nursing students presented their Population Health Clerkship projects virtually on Friday, Oct. 30. The clerkship is a two-week, interprofessional learning experience required of all second-year medical and nursing students, exposing them to hands-on experience with social determinants of health and community practices.

“At first, it seemed a huge challenge to shift the population health clerkships from community settings to the Zoom environment, but we’ve done our best and focused on the silver linings,” said Heather-Lyn Haley, PhD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health and director of the population health clerkships. “Our academic and community faculty have risen to the occasion and found creative ways to welcome and engage students given the new normal shaped by COVID restrictions.”

Presentation day was filled with innovative studies, analyses, ideas and solutions.

One study analyzed racism as a public health crisis. Under the direction of Matilde Castiel, MD, associate professor of medicine and commissioner of health and human services in Worcester, MD/PhD student Webb Camille, GSN students Anisha Chauhan, Sarah Fixon-Owoo, Jacqueline Mbugua and Helen Tsiagras, and SOM student Bennett Vogt explored the ways in which health care providers and community leaders can better serve economically challenged and minority populations in the city. The team identified the importance of knowing these populations as a whole, suggesting the ways that implicit bias and discrimination can be harmful to public health. They looked more closely at what clinicians can do to address this, analyzing geographic location and the limits of access to care, as well as the need for collaboration between health care professionals, law enforcement and community advocates.

“The only way to take care of this issue of systemic racism is to acknowledge it,” said Fixon-Owoo.

Another team of students focused on Worcester EMS providers, such as paramedics, EMTs and first responders. By visiting various departments and offices, and reviewing at data, the students looked at social and medical risks in EMS, including burnout, sleeping problems, physical injury and stress. The team explored ways to improve care to these responders who experience health-related issues as a result of responses to emergencies, heavy lifting, trauma and more. They also investigated the demand of EMS providers, and how local and state unions can better advocate for this population for training, benefits, protocols and mental health support. This team, led by Laurel O’Connor, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, included GSN students Brad Daniels-Demers, Sophia Mirageas and Bethany Morrill; MD/PhD student Theodore Carrigan-Broda; and SOM students Sean Teebagy, Benjamin Palleiko, Eileen McGarry, Christopher Boussy, Brian Brisebois, Scott Ewy, Jeremiah Hyslip, Arian Mostofi, Abhinav Prasad, Jan Sjoquist and Coleman Riordan.

Under the direction of Erik Garcia, MD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health, another team studied Worcester’s homeless population and the ways medical professionals can provide compassionate care. GSN student Liz Vequist, SOM students Symren Dhaliwal and Grace Ryan, as well as MD/PhD student Vincent Azzolino, explored homelessness as a chronic condition and the range of medical and social needs that should be addressed. With roughly 18,000 homeless individuals in Massachusetts, most of whom are in homeless families, the students looked at associated health risks such as substance abuse, exploitation, trauma, and physical and mental health conditions. They identified the roles of health care workers, state and federal agencies, legal counsel, criminal justice systems, and nonprofit organizations in providing access to hospitals and resources. They worked closely with local organizations that provide aid to the homeless population, including the Hector Reyes House and the Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Project.