Future Doctors Serve Their Community
As future doctors, graduates of the Health Science Intensive program recently teamed up with current HSI students to create a community outreach initiative. Together, they are serving countless hours helping others in Montgomery County and Washington, D.C.
The Post-Baccalaureate Health Science Intensive Program – or HSI – started at Johns Hopkins in June 2013. It is part of the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences Advanced Academic Programs; all courses are held on the Montgomery County Campus. Students in the 12-month program take Biochemistry, Cell Biology and Molecular Biology, plus four science electives. In addition to their science classes, students take three non-science courses: Communication for Health Care Professionals; Building and Leading Teams in Healthcare; and the Psychosocial Determinates of Health, Implications on Diagnosis.
The idea behind the program is to give students the opportunity to enroll in rigorous courses in the life sciences to prove their aptitude to study medicine. The hope is that after completing HSI, students will be more attractive medical school candidates. All HSI graduates earn the Master of Science in Biotechnology degree; many are accepted to medical school.
HSI students said the program has strong academic and research components, mentoring and MCAT preparation. Although students said their professors and advisers encourage them to serve the community, the HSI students said they wanted to develop a more formal framework for volunteer opportunities to enable HSI – and other JHU students – to become active members in their community and participate in outreach while establishing a sustainable organization HSI students can call their own.
Several students and graduates banded together to develop an initiative they call HSI Outreach Program, or HOP. Some students involved completed the HSI coursework last year and are working on medical school applications while others are current HSI students. HOP is an ongoing effort.
They are broadening their perspective on people in need while cultivating the principle of altruism. At the same time, performing community service bolsters their medical school applications, making them more attractive and well-rounded candidates.
Therese Blanch, 23, is a recent HSI graduate is one of HOP’s creators. She said she did a lot of community outreach when she was an undergraduate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and felt “unbalanced” at Johns Hopkins because she was so focused on academics. Working with different populations, Blanch said, increases her awareness. Sometimes she and her classmates felt “stuck in a university bubble. There is a larger community out there we need to be part of.”
“As science students, we get so caught up with all of our school work,” Blanch said. “There’s such an emphasis on MCAT, perfect GPA. We forget we are servants to the community.”
Adam Bartholomeo, 24, helped establish the program to better the community in which he lives.
“It is important for students to volunteer in the community because it reinforces the deeper passion of helping provide service to those in need,” said Bartholomeo, who graduated from HSI in 2015. “By volunteering, students establish a connection to their community. This benefits them because it not only brings awareness to the challenges faced by in-need populations, but strengthens their character, social skills and ethics through forming friends and connections with a diverse group of people, which is essential to becoming a doctor with strong empathy and high morality.”
HSI students this summer spoke with nonprofits and other organizations in the community, trying to find volunteer opportunities that suited both the interests and time restraints of the students. By design, the students sought volunteer opportunities that would not exclusively focus on clinical care. Many of them already have those experiences; they wanted to try something different, such a tutoring at-risk youth or chopping food to give to hungry families.
To date, they pinpointed four opportunities. Students currently are volunteering at:
* Little Lights Urban Ministries, a nonprofit Christian urban ministry, where volunteers work with DC youth.
* Shady Grove Center – Genesis Health Care, where volunteers spend time with hospice patients, patients in short-term rehab and patients in long-term or respite care.
* DC Central Kitchen, where volunteers prep food for distribution in low-income communities.
* MEDLIFE, an organization that works with low-income communities to improve access to medical care, education and community development. The MEDLIFE Hopkins Chapter, based in Baltimore, organizes medical brigades to Peru, Ecuador, Tanzania and India, where students participate in mobile clinics.
Students are not required to participate, yet many are.
“I am proud of my students as they are being proactive and are taking deliberate steps in order to support the community by volunteering in various ways,” said Roza Selimyan, program coordinator and lecturer for the HSI program. “This is when you realize that their desire to serve communities is genuine.”
Steven Senglaub, 24, is a current student who said he thinks it’s great that students are having such an impact on the HSI program.
“For me, if the students learn something – anything – from this experience, that would be beneficial,” Senglaub said. “Being involved in the community is like helping patients.”
Noordeep Panesar, 24, is volunteering at Little Lights. Through the HSI Outreach Program, she and her classmates are providing academic assistance to children in pre-K through eighth grade.
“HOP hopes to help Little Lights with its mission to see all children and youth perform at their highest education capacity that will ultimately lead to gainful employment,” Panesar said. “My goal as an aspiring physician is to help children build a high level of literacy so that they can make informed health decisions in the future. It is vital for physicians to be able to communicate and teach people about their health.”