UGA Medical Students Broaden Horizons
Some go abroad, others help at home.
For first year medical students across the U.S., the summer between the first year and second year of medical school is often considered the last summer of freedom.
Future doctors typically spend this summer doing laboratory work, gaining clinical experience by working in clinics or hospitals, or taking part in service-oriented outreach programs.
It’s no different for medical students at the newly established Georgia Health Sciences University and University of Georgia medical partnership program.
In late October, students looked back on what they did last summer during the Medical Partnership Student Research Symposium at the GHSU/UGA Interim Medical Partnership building.
Some students participated in clinical research with patients at facilities such as St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah and Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown, Mass. Others did studies involving animals as small as mice and as large as horses. All summarized their work on posters that drew a crowd for the first portion of the symposium.
Nine students gave oral presentations about their summer experiences in outreach programs or working in clinics.
One overarching message was clear—Athens students are dedicated not only to the value of research and practicing good medicine, but also to contributing to good deeds and outreach services both at home and abroad.
Students Spencer Maddox and Sierra Green, for example, spent two weeks on a medical mission trip to Costa Rica.
In conjunction with a nationally recognized service learning organization known as the International Service Learning program, Maddox and Green spent time in two different settings: an urban shanty town known as Barrio Nuevo and Tabarcia, a rural mountain village.
Poor health was common because people have limited access to running water, electricity and clean toilets, particularly in the overpopulated city of Barrio Nuevo. There are thousands of Nicaraguan refugees here, and they don’t have access to the rudimentary healthcare guaranteed to Costa Rican citizens.
“Those kinds of living conditions are just not conducive to good health and we really saw that firsthand,” said Maddox.
People in the rural mountain town were better off: living conditions were less crowded, people were not so poor, and all residents had access to Costa Rica’s national health system.
The experience gave students an opportunity to see how other countries make do within the confines of an elementary universal healthcare system with minimal resources.
“We take a lot of things for granted here—testing, drugs, that kind of stuff,” Maddox said. “To be able to see how other countries do it, how they make do in situations that aren’t ideal, is definitely eye-opening.”
Similarly, in Athens-Clarke County, free clinics operate and provide healthcare with limited resources, albeit not to the extent of the Costa Rican healthcare system. One medical student spent her time at two local medical clinics and learned firsthand just how much a small amount of primary healthcare can benefit those who don’t have access to services otherwise.
Amy Martin, now a second-year medical student, spent the summer working at two local clinics that provide free care to people with no health insurance.
At the Mercy Clinic, she organized students to help staff certain clinic days. At the Athens Nurses Clinic, she extended a smoking cessation project that she and her classmates started during the school year.
Both experiences, she said, immersed her in health issues faced by indigent and uninsured populations in Athens and in the larger northeast Georgia region.
Martin hopes that the GHSU/UGA medical partnership will eventually be able to open a freestanding clinic to help low-income area residents. In the meantime, she said working at the Mercy Clinic helps her and fellow students develop essential clinical skills.
Having a medical school campus so close to a large number of people who desperately need health education and care is mutually beneficial.
“I really think it’s really important for us to give back to Athens, to establish ourselves in the medical community. I really think as a medical school, we should be improving the healthcare in this area because we have the resources,” she said. “I feel that it’s our duty and it’s also a pleasure at the same time.”