By Dr. Victor Sierpina
Smart, very smart. That’s what most folks think about UTMB medical students. And indeed, by the time they have been accepted to UTMB or any other US medical school, these are highly academically successful students. Most of our medical school applicants have a nearly perfect and often straight “A” average through college. What you may not know is this. Besides grades, another factor strongly considered in the admissions process is the student’s record of community service and volunteerism. We value evidence of altruism in prospective students and look back at their records for service activities in college and even in high school. Such activities characterize those who are not only gifted and successful in the classroom, but are willing to take valuable time away from the books to provide care to the underserved, vulnerable, or in other charitable causes. These are going to be the committed, empathic, and socially dedicated physicians of the future.
An example of this kind of student service coming out of UTMB was the “Spring into Healthy Living Event. ” It was sponsored by the UTMB Students Together for Service (STS) and Galveston Island’s Biggest Loser program, a group working with individual to lose pounds and become healthier.
STS was the brainstorm of two former St. Vincent’s student directors, David Darrow and Philip Hoverstadt. Medical students, Rimma Osipov and Christine Horstmeyer, applied on behalf of STS garnered a $50,000 President’s Cabinet Award for developing a student-run organization to help coordinate the enormous energy and variety of student volunteer and community service activities going in our medical, nursing, health professions, and graduate schools.
This Spring into Healthy Living event included free health screening including blood tests, blood pressure and visual testing, yoga classes, demonstrations of healthy cooking and food safety, nutrition jeopardy, and a raffle with prizes including cookbooks, pedometers, water bottles, and more. It was open to anyone in the community, child friendly, and for whole family.
Projects funded or supported by the STS using donated President’s Cabinet funds include:
Houston Global Health Collaborative with UTHSC-Houston - collaborating to advance Global Health 2013 Conference promoting global health.
Senior Care Program
Let's Talk About Sex Workshop - empowering young women with tools and resources to make healthy decisions in the future.
Family Medicine Interest Group - FMIG Helping Hands-volunteers at the Luke Society for homeless medical care and St Vincent’s clinic for the uninsured, hygiene education and give away packages to the homeless in the community.
Improving Potential for Children in Orphanage in India - serving orphaned children with special needs in India with purchase of supplies.
Walk This Way - purchase of pedometers
Infectious Disease Seminar for Galveston Community
Hospice and Palliative Care Organization: Service Learning Activities
Correct Care: Prison Care Project - food and transcription costs
Austin College: Global Medical Brigades – supplies
CD Doyle Student Clinic (Austin) - supplies for free medical care to the homeless population
Many other additional UTMB student projects are ongoing and include:
School of Nursing Butterfly Project for bereaved families
St. Vincent’s clinic for the uninsured, where our students not only run the clinic entirely on volunteer hours, they also put together community health fairs to provide screening for anyone who wants to know their blood pressure or glucose levels and bring community services from all over the island to help people connect with resources.
The Luke Society providing care for the homeless
Frontera de Salud which works on the Texas border with at risk patients
Hands and Feet who also go out to the border and teach diabetic patients how to do their own feet checks and do diabetic education classes.
The Osler student societies which are dedicated to service, socialization, and mentorship and among other things organize food drives throughout the year and the big Halloween carnival for the children of Galveston Island.
Houston Global Health Collaborative’s 2013 Conference promoting global health
Senior Care Program
The Stress-Less-Fest supported by the Osler Societies and the Students in Integrative Medicine
Caring Clowns in which med students dress up, make balloon animals and try to make the hospital a less scary place for our younger patients.
Netter's Knitters who are medical students who knit baby beanies and shirts for NICU babies and TDC mothers’ babies.
Big Brothers and Sisters
Deborah's Garden, an organization that maintains a community garden and encourages gardening throughout the Island to increase access to fresh vegetables.
Student chapters of the American Medical Association/Texas Medical Association advocating in Austin for health policy .
Books to Bedside in which medical students have a collection of 1000+ books that are available to adults and children in the hospital to borrow or keep if they really love the book.
Sir William Osler's Name That Book where med students go out to 5 island elementary schools and mentor 3rd and 4th graders to get them excited obit reading and encourage reading comprehension.
If that list doesn’t wow you, just know this is the tip of iceberg when it comes to our UTMB students’ commitment to service. In their fourth year, medical students selective requirements actually include service learning. However, well before such required activities, students in all schools demonstrate their commitment through volunteering in such groups as those listed.
We all ought be proud of our future doctors, nurses, and other health professions providers of the future for all the good they do through volunteer activities. Mentored and guided by equally committed faculty members, these students learn valuable clinical skills, how to organize social, charitable, advocacy, and health promotion activities. Perhaps best of all, they are making the world a better place and how good it feels to give for the sheer joy of giving to others less fortunate than ourselves.