During her first two years of medical school, Karen Thomas spent a few hours each Wednesday evening at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, cuddling infants whose parents couldn’t be there with them. “It was, very literally, a way for me to lay my hands on a patient and contribute to their care,” says Thomas. “In holding, talking, and playing with the children I thought I could help give each of them something that every patient needs—a little TLC.”
Her fellow medical students, along with students at the School of Nursing, spend evenings at the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen or the Columbus House homeless shelter, offering physical exams and checkups under the supervision of physicians and nurses. Students come to medical school laboratories from Hill Regional Career High School to learn anatomy. Public health students lead a workshop in self-esteem and conflict resolution at the New Haven Boys & Girls Club, just a few blocks from the medical school campus. The Physician Associate Program Class of 2001 spent a Saturday in June working on a Habitat for Humanity renovation project in the city’s Newhallville neighborhood.
“Being able to participate in community projects like Habitat helps put things into perspective,” says Class President Ed Hahm. “It’s important for us to realize that there is so much more out there than just studying for weekly exams. Participating in community projects such as Habitat for Humanity gives us an opportunity to get involved with the community we’re learning to serve medically.”
These are just a few of the ways in which students in the health professions join with their neighbors in building healthier communities. As the University marks its 300th anniversary, it is looking not only to its own history and future, but also to its relationship with New Haven. The Tercentennial’s opening weekend in October celebrated the University’s neighbors with an open house. The photo essay that follows is adapted from a photo exhibit, “Neighbors: Working Together for a Healthy New Haven,” displayed as part of the School of Medicine’s celebration of the Tercentennial.
The photo essay documents the activities of students and health care providers who work in the communities that border the medical campus. When student involvement with the medical school’s neighbors began in its current form in the mid-1980s, activities focused on education-medical students held workshops in public schools to talk about drug abuse and aids. By the early 1990s students were serving as prenatal health advocates for new mothers, teaching high school students to teach their peers about aids, and bringing fifth-graders to campus for interactive lessons in medical science.
In 1993 students and faculty contemplated forming an umbrella organization to coordinate the growing number of participating students and community service activities. COVS, the Committee Overseeing Volunteer Services, was formed. It now oversees 17 activities involving scores of students and has established three categories of programs-health education and youth mentoring, clinical intervention and community development.
With the formation of COVS, medical students reached out to students in nursing and public health, with whom they now work side by side at homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Now, about 70 percent of medical students are involved in at least one community activity. Both parties in these activities gain from the partnerships. “I came to school here with the goal of working with the homeless and low-income population when I graduate,” says Holly Leopold, a nursing student who takes blood pressure and offers health counseling at the soup kitchen. “I have loved getting to know the soup kitchen guests and feel that my education, both in life and nursing, has been greatly enriched by my experiences there.”
The worth of partnerships with New Haven’s neighborhoods may not be felt for years, says Myron Genel, M.D., a faculty member who has worked for many years with student and community organizations. “The real rewards are going to come 10 to 15 years downstream when we can see the influence these programs have had on people’s lives. They are long-term investments.”