CINCINNATI—Alyssa Lucas got a chance to really connect with women recovering from addiction.
The first-year medical student spent eight weeks teaching a women’s health and mental health curriculum to residents in First Step Home, an addiction recovery center in Walnut Hills designed to assist women with children through addiction.
Lucas volunteered as part of the Urban Health Project (UHP), a nonprofit, UC medical student-run organization that places students who have finished their first year of medical school in summer internships with medical and social service agencies in Greater Cincinnati.
"I am really glad I did this because addiction is such a growing problem that we have and I feel like a lot of people don’t have experience with it on the ground,” says Lucas, who is entering her second year of medical school at UC. "A physician of any type will run into this and I got a chance to experience the frustration with the health care system from their perspective. I also worked in the medication room and that’s where I spent most of my time helping them distribute their medications.
"I heard their stories about their experiences with doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, and if we listen they may offer ways that we can improve and be better as health care providers,” says Lucas. "There were a lot of negative experiences toward the health care field in general. After I heard their stories I really didn’t blame them. They sometimes feel kind of judged or cast aside or like their problems aren’t taken seriously.”
Lucas, 23, and a native of Gallipolis, says a big part of her job was also listening and then advocating.
"I wrestled with pharmacies on the phone and called doctors so the women could receive proper medications,” says Lucas. "Just having an advocate was appreciated because it is just hard for them to be an advocate for themselves in every aspect of their lives.”
Twenty-one medical students were at 17 sites this past summer. They shared what they learned and displayed research posters during the Urban Health Project’s annual "Committed to Community Event” held Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, in CARE/Crawley Atrium. Phillip Diller, MD, Fred Lazarus Jr. Professor of Medicine and Chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine offered a keynote address.
Lucas was honored by UHP with the Committed to Community Award, while medical students Caroline Hensley and Michela Carter were honored with the Continued Excellence Award and the Outstanding Service Project Award, respectively.
"Through exposure to the circumstances and hardship faced by underserved populations, UHP aims to create socially responsible physicians,” explains Molly Leavitt, a co-director of the project.
The entire class of students in UHP this year also partnered with TriHealth and People Working Cooperatively (PWC) to build a ramp for a two Tristate residents with mobility issues. The team-building exercise was just another way for medical students completing their first-year in med school to interact with a population many at some point in their career in medicine will encounter, says Leavitt.
"One of the best aspects of UHP is that it allows medical students to push past their comfort zone to experience something new and different from their day-to-day lives,” says says Jenna Barengo, also a co-director of UHP, and a medical student entering her second year at UC. "The experience helps give us a foundation of service, understanding, humility and compassion, each of which is an essential part of being a good physician.”
UHP is celebrating its 31st year and during that time has assist 591 first-year med students to serve as interns at 69 community sites. The students have provided 250,400 hours of service during UHP’s tenure. More than $2 million in grants and donations have assisted UHP since its start.
Ridhima Vemula, 24, and a medical student entering her second year, was an intern at the Bethesda North OBGYN Center, accompanying residents to see and assist patients during medical visits. She helped with medical charts, pap smears and gynecological exams and at times scrubbed up for caesarean sections at the hospital.
"It was awesome and it was really cool experience,” says Vemula. "The site was really interesting. It’s very close to Indian Hills, one of Cincinnati’s wealthiest areas, but most of our population was under insured, uninsured or self-pay. That was 60 percent of the clinic and going in to see patients with residents was interesting because you see the problems that someone who comes in with no insurance or under insurance faces versus someone who is from a wealthier background.
"We had a large Spanish-speaking and immigrant population at the center and the types of things they would struggle with are like, ‘I am here without any support and I only speak Spanish and I don’t know how to access any other resources around here. Whereas someone coming from a wealthy background might be more like, ‘This is my first baby and I don’t know what to expect.’
"When you think about that it’s two completely different sets of problems. One is like a huge life issue, like how are you going to survive, take care of yourself and this baby whereas for the other one it’s very different,’” says Vemula, who is from San Francisco.
"This experience taught me a lot about the challenges that populations within an urban health care setting face, where you get a mix of populations from different socioeconomic strata,” says Vemula. "It’s made me more aware of and sensitive to the struggles that patients might be going through, and more prepared to help.”