Drexel medical students learn to be advocates through community service – Reading Eagle

As the class of 2025 in Tower Health’s Drexel University College of Medicine’s MD program completes its first semester of medical school, Dr. Eugene York said he was proud to see how well the students’ ability to advocate for hurting patients served has progressed.

York is the course director for the Health Advocacy Practicum (HAP) at the college. HAP, a required course that is primarily focused on community engagement experiences, helps students learn first-hand how to identify and address the social determinants of health, and the barriers that underserved or disabled patients face in accessing health care or staying healthy.

“HAP’s goal is to reach students early in their careers and introduce, educate and engage them in these challenges that many people face,” York said. “The goal is to prepare students to pursue community health care work in the future.”

Students are working this academic year with nearly 30 Berks County organizations to help people who face health barriers such as lack of insurance, homelessness, substance use disorders, disabilities, the effects of a psychiatric illness and more.

Andrea Bensusan, academic program coordinator for the College of Medicine, said the enthusiastic participation of students and their host organizations made this first semester of HAP a success.

“Community service is clearly a high priority for students,” she said. “And our community partners were thrilled to hear the students’ perspective and have additional support in their work. »

One of the host sites is the Reading Hospital Street Medicine Program, which York founded as part of his role as a Tower Health clinician. Several students have joined York and her colleagues to help provide primary and urgent care to homeless people in Berks County – and student involvement has enabled the expansion of its services to include eye health and respiratory care.

York witnessed the learning process of the students. During an eye screening, the students encountered a man who was worried about a family history of glaucoma, but hadn’t had the opportunity to monitor his eye health because he was homeless.

“We were able to examine him and get him through formal eye care, and indeed he had quite advanced glaucoma,” York said. “Finding out that we may have been able to save his eyesight, which was very exciting for the students.”

The students also encountered a man who needed treatment for a chronic illness that had rendered him unable to work and homeless.

“Medical care was, in this case, quite easy to provide,” York said. “The real barriers were these social determinants of health, and that was an important lesson for the students to learn.”

The more time students spend working with community members in need, the better equipped they are to keep the work going, Bensusan said.

“When students see patients in a clinic, they have a better understanding of what the patient had to go through just to get to the appointment,” Bensusan said. “That can include access to transportation, access to insurance, finding daycare if they have kids, or just having time in their schedule.”

Bensusan and York look forward to expanding the program’s countywide partnerships as more students enroll at the campus, which opened in August. As the school year continues, they will also help students create more after-school volunteer opportunities.

“We hope students will be inspired when they see the work that individuals and organizations in the community are doing,” York said. “There are so many people and organizations doing fantastic work, and it inspires us all to emulate and continue that work.”

Jill E. Washington