“Nothing rivals direct experience when it comes to patient care”: A Medical Student’s Perspective on the CTSC’s Heart-to-Heart Community Outreach Campaign

A critical component of the Weill Cornell Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC)’s mission is community engagement, and two of our key programs are the Community Interactive Videoconferencing (CIVIC) program, which provides distance learning to underserved NYC communities on a diverse array of health topics, and the student-led Heart-to-Heart Community Outreach Campaign, which promotes health awareness by offering free screenings at community events. Both programs draw from the extensive and diverse network of community-minded individuals in the CTSC consortium, who contribute their time and talents to make a difference in at-risk populations in NYC.

In this post, guest blogger Jennifer S. Lee shares her experience as a volunteer at a recent Heart-to-Heart event as part of the CTSC’s course on community outreach entitled “Heart-to-Heart: Experiential Learning in Community Outreach.” A 2006 graduate of Cornell University, Ms. Lee worked as a Research Assistant at CTSC consortium partner Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, while earning a second bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a certificate in Health Careers Preparation from our partner Hunter College. With her extensive background in cancer research, she appreciated the opportunity Heart-to-Heart gave her to learn more about working with a broader community with a wider and more general range of health concerns. She is now a medical student at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Middletown, NY.

Jennifer S. Lee, has degrees from both Cornell University and Hunter College, served as a research assistant in oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and is currently a medical student at Touro College. She shares her experience as a recent Heart-to-Heart volunteer.

Jennifer S. Lee has degrees from both Cornell University and Hunter College, served as a research assistant in oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and is currently a medical student at Touro College. She shares her experience as a recent Heart-to-Heart volunteer.

Experiential Learning in Community Outreach with Heart-to-Heart, June 6, 2015

Location: Christian Fellowship Seventh Day Adventist Church in Brooklyn

By Jennifer S. Lee

The Community Outreach event on June 6th at the Christian Fellowship was my first volunteer experience with Heart-to-Heart. The first thing that interested me about the Heart-to-Heart campaign was the utilization of a clinical trial format to conduct a public health survey in healthy individuals.

The closest experience I have had to something like this was a diabetes risk assessment survey that I conducted on the outpatient population at Woodhull Hospital, but its purpose was to capture the community’s immediate risk for diabetes so that hospital administrators could gauge the need for prevention education for the community. Accordingly, my survey was limited in scope and duration. In the years since, the closest experience I have had on studying health trends is working on retrospective reviews examining records of now-deceased patients. It was fascinating to see the scope of the Heart-to-Heart study, which is able to capture current data in live and healthy participants that not only reflect the immediate health of communities but also examine the health trends of those communities over time as well as the impact on the health habits of the individuals who agree to participate in the follow-up survey. I hope to design and execute my own clinical trials one day and my experience on the Heart-to-Heart study has opened up possibilities in the kind of research I hope to design.

As this was my first exposure to this kind of study, I perused the informed consent to compare it with the kinds of informed consents I dealt with in therapeutic oncology trials. The one thing that stood out to me was the part of the informed consent form that told participants that they would receive no direct benefits from the study. While interviewing study participants, I saw that some patients have no health insurance and the ones that do sometimes have difficulty getting appointments. Accordingly, the test results and individual consultation with a physician that participants receive is still extremely informative and more than they might otherwise get. While these are only indirect benefits and cannot be cited in an informed consent form, it can nonetheless have a lasting impact on an individual’s health.

The Heart-to-Heart experience has not just informed me in terms of research; it has been extremely valuable in informing me as a future clinician. For example, one of the participants I worked with was a young woman who had no comorbidities and maintained a healthy diet, but found no time to exercise. During the consultation, the physician gave really practical tips on ways she could start incorporating walking into her daily routine. If she was driving to a mall, for example, she could deliberately park her car at the far end of the lot; or if she was taking the train, she could get off just one stop earlier. She said that she found both tips to be so simple and easy to incorporate that she had no excuse not to do it. That response reflected not only a change in commitment to a healthier lifestyle but also a broader change in her mentality, which I think will have a more dramatic lasting impact than fitness recommendations alone could have accomplished.

I was also fortunate to be paired up with Fatema (Begum, a student volunteer from Hunter College) when I first arrived. As a long-time volunteer with Heart-to-Heart, Fatema was able to show me how best to navigate the floor and direct the patient. From there, I was able to interview other participants on my own. I not only benefited from having someone with experience show me everything step-by-step, but I also learned that nothing rivals direct experience when it comes to patient care—an invaluable lesson as I enter medical school, where I will be learning as much from my peers as I will from my professors. I look forward to my next Heart-to-Heart event and other clinical insights that this opportunity provides.

To learn more about Heart-to-Heart, visit here.

To learn more about this course and CTSC Education and Training program, visit here

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