The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson welcomed a new class of medical students in July. But before the Class of 2022 could begin to learn about practicing medicine, faculty first ensured that students walked in the shoes of their future patients.
“Medicine isn’t all science; there is a human piece. Health care is a caring field,” explained Andreas Theodorou, MD, professor of pediatrics.
All 124 first-year medical students learned this lesson first-hand during the college’s week-long orientation from July 23-27. A chunk of the week’s activities and experiences instilled the importance of empathy, respect and compassion in medicine.
Students were challenged to make their own living wills, which is often burdensome for patients who are challenged by legalese or technology, and put themselves in the shoes of patients who lack income or reliable transportation.
Divided into four learning communities groups of up to 35, students traveled via public transit for Community Day on July 25. The day of service saw students volunteering in Tucson’s underserved communities and organizations that focused on decreasing health disparities, food insecurity and homelessness.
Many of the students had taken a city bus before, but for some, it allowed them to see that buses don’t always arrive on time, according to Paul Gordon, MD, professor of family and community medicine.
“Doctors can be cruel when patients are late. They may punish those who are late for appointments,” Dr. Gordon said.
The students who were led by Dr. Gordon packed medical kits, animal food and mailers at the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation.
Other groups of students gardened at Easter Seals, packed donated food at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, and picked up trash along the streets of the City of South Tucson — a 1.2-square mile city where many residents struggle to make a living wage.
“Almost 17 years ago, I directly benefited from health care outreach programs, community centers and social support networks as a homeless pregnant teen. I would not have been able to get myself on track to college without these resources for myself and my infant son,” said Maria Williams, a Class of 2022 medical student who participated in Community Day.
She added, “I am passionate to give back and contribute to the supportive forces helping empower individuals in our community.”
Prior to leaving for their designated community sites, the students prepared their lunches for the day: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This contrasted with the catered meals they enjoyed during much of orientation week.
“Making their own food shows them that others don’t have the same luxury of receiving catered meals,” said Kristie Bowen, PhD, director of student affairs and a research assistant professor of family and community medicine.
Patricia Lebensohn, MD, professor of family and community medicine, has directed Community Day for the past four years. Under her guidance, the day of service was integrated into the college’s curriculum.
Teaching Class of 2022 students humanism and social determinants of health is necessary to be the best physicians possible, Lebensohn said.
During the final days of orientation week, the Class of 2022 put together a mission statement that reflected the week’s lessons: compassion in medicine.
The students collectively read this statement aloud at the White Coat Ceremony on July 27. There they also received and donned their first white coats as a symbol of their acceptance and entry into medical school.
With new white coats in hand, medical students officially began their journey at the College of Medicine – Tucson.
Not long after, they saw their first patients and started putting into practice what they had learned.
By: Kristan Obeng
Published: Aug. 6, 2018