Published: Aug. 23, 2013

Medical students meet their new communities


Bathrooms in the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge needed repainting. Over at the Baxter Community Center, clothing needed to be folded, envelopes stuffed and books sorted. At the Greater Lansing Food Bank, food needed sorting, and the gardens needed tending. At Clark Retirement Community, a room full of elderly residents simply needed someone to talk to.

Enter about 200 new students from Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. They split up and fanned out across Grand Rapids and Lansing on Wednesday, volunteering their time and energy to serve the community that will be their home as they start their medical education.

It was orientation week for the first-year students, and as part of that introduction, each was required to spend an afternoon of community service.

Even if it wasn’t a requirement, “we’d have done it anyway,” said student Jeremy Searls, preparing to paint a bathroom.

For most of the students, volunteering came naturally. Second-year student Jennifer Kay, who was supervising a group of first-year students, volunteered at a clinic in Nicaragua the end of her first year.

“It puts it in perspective why you’re working so hard,” she said.

That’s a characteristic the college stresses for its students, said Pat Brewer, assistant dean for student development. While the science of medicine is an important part of each student’s education, so is a passion to serve.

“We think it makes a lot of sense in the first week that they be reminded that the College of Human Medicine has a strong commitment to community service,” Brewer said. “Our students need to understand that sometimes that means pulling weeds and licking envelopes.”

Decked out in orange T-shirts emblazoned with an image of Sparty’s helmet and a stethoscope, they set to work.

“It’s better than being sedentary,” said student Kayli Pioszak, paint brush in hand. “MSU’s all about serving the community. This is putting it into action. It’s better than empty words in a mission statement.”

Classmate Max Wingelaar said he eventually hopes to travel to areas underserved by medical care.

“One of the reasons I chose State is because of their dedication to the community,” he said.

Several blocks away, at the Baxter Community Center, which serves low-income residents, volunteer coordinator Sonja Forte said she hopes the students return to help out in the center’s medical clinic. Some of the volunteers that day already had asked what more they could do, she said, adding “it allows us to give the students a glimpse of what goes on in the community.”

At the Clark Retirement Community, a dozen students sat down for a Hawaiian luau with the elderly residents, many dealing with memory disorders.

“Oh, they’re wonderful,” Clark resident Jacqueline Deeb said. “I’m glad they’re doing this.”

Responded student Emily Howell, “Maybe it’s for both of us. I love it.”


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