Beyond the classroom

Medical students become volunteers as part of a social medicine course at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

Floor hockeyHockey sticks and shin guards have become part of a weekly routine for some first-year medical students and residents at Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care (Mount Hope).

In a collaborative initiative with Western University’s School of Medicine & Dentistry, 13 medical students have been volunteering at Mount Hope. The students visit with residents one-on-one and help out with recreational programs such as music, floor hockey, shuffleboard and resident pub nights.

While there have been medical student volunteers in the past, a new social medicine course as part of the Doctor of Medicine curriculum provides students with the opportunity to examine the social determinants of health and consider their place within the health care “ecosystem.” The purpose of the course is to enhance the students’ communication skills, allow them to work with different populations, and improve understanding of how a patient’s life situation may affect health.

“Volunteering provides medical students with an opportunity to unite academic study and community service in mutually reciprocal ways,” says Dr. Teresa Van Deven, Curriculum Coordinator for the Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.  “By studying how illness is socially constructed, we are able to examine how social forces shape our understanding of and actions toward health, illness and healing.”

Pictured: Resident Marnie McGarry, left, and first-year medical student, Jeff Lovell, gear up for a game of floor hockey at Mount Hope Centre for Longer Term Care. Jeff is one of many medical students who have recently become volunteers at Mount Hope as part of a social medicine course at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

floor hockey

As part of the course, the students choose a demographic population to study and are encouraged to contribute to the well-being of the community by participating in a community placement that corresponds with their chosen demographic.

During a typical shift at Mount Hope, each student spends three hours working with staff and residents.

First-year medical student Jeffrey Lovell, who hopes to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, is among those currently completing a volunteer placement at Mount Hope. Every week, he engages with residents and participates in floor hockey events, while learning more about his chosen demographic.

For Jeff, this early exposure to the needs and experiences of a specific population has been beneficial, but equally valuable has been the unique opportunity to build and foster relationships within the community.

“Being aware of social health issues is just one part of the course,” says Jeff. “Many of the residents at Mount Hope don’t have many visitors or family. For me, it’s also been about working on establishing connections, developing empathy and becoming more familiar with a population that I serve. It’s been an eye-opening experience.”

There’s more to being a doctor than recognizing and treating an illness, adds Dr. Van Deven, who developed the course at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “It’s about teaching our physicians about the whole patient and the whole community in which they live.”

Tracy Drenth, Coordinator of Volunteer Services at St. Joseph’s, says the residents “look forward to seeing all of our volunteers, including medical students. We’ve been extremely fortunate to have them – and watching everyone feel like kids again and enjoying themselves has been an added bonus.”

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