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Michigan’s Surgery Olympics: More Than Just a Game

The Olympic Games are considered some of the most anticipated sporting events in the world, rotating between winter and summer sports every four years in some of the most culturally rich locations. Arguably just as exciting, Surgery Olympics is an academically stimulating event that occurs yearly in one of the best cities, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In my experience, Surgery Olympics has introduced me to the concept of developing and executing original research projects and has connected me with dedicated mentors, all while having fun with classmates along the way. It has been such an important milestone in my medical school experience and is a program that both students and faculty look forward to every year.

An important concept of academic research and medicine is lifelong learning. There are always new knowledge and methods to be learned with the common goal of improving outcomes for patients. That’s one of the great things about Surgery Olympics: whether a student is starting at square one or has already learned how to construct and publish a vast portfolio of research, this program offers something for everyone.

Surgery Olympics offers incredible opportunities for hands-on experience

Coming into medical school, I had some research experience in a surgical laboratory, but I wanted to learn more about the process of academic writing and how someone can take a novel idea and turn this into work that the community views as valuable. The best place for me to learn this was through Surgery Olympics.

What is Surgery Olympics?
It’s a longitudinal program put on by SCRUBS, which is an interest group that aims to provide mentorship for medical students who are interested in surgery. This initiative is supported by the Department of Surgery and provides students with networking and mentorship with faculty, research and technical skill development, opportunities to bond with fellow classmates and much more.

Does one have to declare that they want to go into Surgery before they can participate in Surgery Olympics?
No! The program typically occurs in the spring/summer of the scientific trunk (M1 year). For many medical students that stage is still too early to know what specialty one might apply into, with lots of soul searching and discovery ahead on the horizon.

This coveted trophy is sought after by Surgical Olympians from the med student to attending level each year.

This is a longitudinal program that lasts the entire summer and is intentionally offered to students after their first year. Students are divided in groups of three to four along with an M4 coach and an attending of a specific subspecialty who serve as mentors. In the past, there has been representation from General Surgery, Minimally Invasive Surgery, Pediatric Surgery, Vascular, Thoracic, Colorectal, Surgical Oncology, Plastics, Hepatobiliary and Advanced GI, Endocrine, Transplant, Urology and many more.

Students typically meet every two weeks over a 14-week period to keep on track with their project. At the very end of the program, students have an opportunity to present their work at the Department of Surgery Grand Rounds. In keeping with the name, there is also a final competition that serves as an opportunity for students to show off the knot tying, suturing and other technical skills they have learned. The winning team gets to take home the prized trophy along with its associated bragging rights.

Other than the fun and games listed above, there are presentations and talks throughout the program delivered by faculty or residents, which I personally found very helpful. Talks could be clinically based or even discuss health and wellness during residency. I also appreciated that the timeline afforded me opportunities to regularly check in with my teammates and mentors. It kept me grounded, focused and excited to keep pushing our project forward.

Michigan medical students learning technical skills that will help them prepare for the annual competition.

I felt compelled to share my reflections on Surgery Olympics because it has been one of the most helpful experiences in my medical school journey. I was placed on the Urology team as an M1, and now I will be applying into that very field. I was extremely fortunate enough to be connected with my mentor, Dr. Kate Kraft, through Surgery Olympics. She has been a constant source of guidance and support throughout my four years at Michigan. It would be hard to imagine my medical school experience without our regular check-in meetings and being able to share my highs and lows with her.

One of the incredible things about the faculty participation is just how excited they are to welcome students onto their research teams and to teach them more about their respective field. It’s important to note that faculty at Michigan Medicine view mentorship as a two-way street, and they gain just as much from mentoring students.

“Surgery Olympics provides a chance for surgical faculty to introduce students to their specialty early in medical school, creating an enriching mentorship opportunity. We’ve been extremely fortunate to have a number of Surgery Olympics students pursue urology as a career – and urology is much better for having them in the field!” – Dr. Kate Kraft

In fact, I think the commitment to mentorship that faculty at Michigan Medicine demonstrate is something that sets this institution apart from all the rest. No matter what field your interests lead you toward, Michigan Medicine is composed of so many powerhouse leaders who want to help you discover your path to your future career in medicine. It can be daunting to make such a big decision, but it is one that we all have to make, and the support along the way has been invaluable. For this reason alone, I am so thankful I took part in Surgery Olympics. As I’ve shared above, the faculty at this incredible institution are so passionate; but don’t just take my word for it, read more from them:

“Surgery Olympics is one of my favorite annual events. It’s the first interaction many of our M1 students will ever have with a surgical faculty. This offers a unique opportunity to not only teach a couple of technical skills and work collectively on a research project, but more importantly a chance to debunk some of the circulating myths about surgeons. It’s a chance to share our own ‘origin stories’ and what fuels our passions, in hopes that it would inspire a young student as they begin their own journey. In return, I am constantly awed by the creative solutions my students come up with to sometimes challenging problems and how they push me to higher levels of empathy and social justice. I’m a better surgeon because of the work I get to do with my students!” – Dr. Gifty Kwakye

Dr. Kwakye is our very own clerkship director for the M2 Surgery and Applied Sciences rotation. Her work and dedication to medical student education speaks for itself, and her passion and positive demeanor inspires students to learn more about the incredible field of surgery. I have early memories of my surgery rotation where I was initially nervous about learning in the OR environment; however, after routinely bumping into Dr. Kwakye in the pre-op area and exchanging a friendly wave or a brief conversation about our days, I felt ready to take on the day’s cases.

In reflecting on my Surgery Olympics experience, I interviewed the Department Chair of Surgery, Dr. Justin Dimick. I asked him what he thinks the importance of this program has on a student’s education and trajectory:

“Academic surgery is about using the scientific process to improve our profession. At Michigan, we strive to pursue a diverse portfolio of scientific discovery, including basic science, education, clinical trials, health systems, organizational culture, and more. The SCRUBS program is intentionally designed to involve medical students in conducting research in one of these areas. For students, this will allow them to start to envision their own career trajectory in academic surgery, where they craft a path to being excellent clinicians and also begin to think about how they might pursue scientific discovery to improve the field of surgery in some way.” – Dr. Justin Dimick

These events also help students hone skills that will prepare them for their surgery, OBGYN, EM and other rotations.

I believe this answer reiterates to just how committed the faculty are in improving the outcomes of medical students as they discover their own path to becoming the best physician they can be.

How can one learn more about SCRUBS?
If you are interested in learning more about SCRUBS and the other opportunities offered by the program, please consider following SCRUBS on Twitter, visiting the homepage or contacting the leadership team by email.

Current SCRUBS Leadership:
Class of 2023: Cameron Harter, Aurelie Tran, Davis Argersinger, Lauren Hoff
Class of 2024: Ally Grossman, Tianyi Wang
Class of 2025: Kailyn Koh, Emily Roney
SCRUBS Directors: Dr. Paige Meyers, Dr. Seth Waits

Connect with faculty on Twitter: Dr. Kate Kraft, Dr. Gifty Kwakye and Dr. Justin Dimick.

Interprofessional Education: Learning How to Best Care for Patients with Others

As a high schooler, I was involved in a life-threatening motor vehicle crash. I had a team of a variety of health care professionals who brought my life back into this world and truly are the reason I recovered as well as I did. Though I did not know it at the time, that experience would have as big an impact on my professional life as my personal life.

Prior to medical school, I worked on an interdisciplinary team in a primary care clinic where I saw first-hand from the provider perspective how much interprofessional work can improve patient care. I knew when I came to medical school that I wanted to find a place that would not only support my passion for interprofessional education (IPE), but also work to ensure that all the trainees left the program with the same open mindset and desire to work with other health professionals. I found that at Michigan.

From the beginning of my medical school experience, I embarked on a journey to work with the faculty at Michigan to ensure an incredible IPE experience for all.

I started serving as the IPE representative on student council for my medical school class. There, I had the opportunity to work closely alongside Dr. Bishop, the Director of IPE at University of Michigan Medical School. From the beginning, he was so incredibly receptive to all student feedback. Not only did he care about my success with IPE, but he also cared about me as a person and never missed a moment to ask how I was doing. We even got lunch one day when I was on a rotation in his clinic. I knew that any time I needed something, he would drop everything to be there for me. This is not unique to Dr. Bishop but is present through Michigan Medicine.

As the IPE representative, I also got the chance to work Carrie Braun, the IPE Program Manager. She offered an immense knowledge from years of medical education and an unmatched excitement about working with students. She, too, always checked in on me and asked what she could do to help.

Dr. Bishop and Carrie are never content with being “great;” they strive for excellence in the support and education that they provide to the medical students. We worked as a team to help revamp some of the IPE courses offered to the medical school based directly on student feedback. We then crafted a novel idea to track the “real-life” interprofessional experiences of medical students during their clinical rotations. The results were incredible; so much amazing IPE took place throughout the hospital daily. We went on to interview several health professionals about how medical students can best work with them and advise on how students could do well in the clinical rotation for their specific department. The videos were edited and provided to the students prior to starting their clinical rotations and received positive feedback. To our knowledge, no other medical school offers that type of introduction to the clinical rotation as part of their curriculum. Initially I thought the idea was unattainable, but Dr. Bishop and Carrie were determined to turn my concept into reality.

In addition to my partnerships with Dr. Bishop and Carrie, I also helped to mentor the medical students in classes below mine on how to become involved in IPE and the importance of IPE in clinical care.

Presenting our work at a national conference in Virginia with my fellow co-chairs!

I also became a co-chair for the Student Advisory Committee (SAC) at U-M, which is a committee run entirely by students and housed under the Center for IPE (C-IPE). The SAC unites students across the U-M health professional schools to promote and engage students in IPE, with a goal of ensuring that graduates will be prepared to work in interprofessional environments upon leaving the university. Through SAC, I met two of my best friends who are dental students. I’ve learned so much about how to be a better health care provider from collaborating with them and hearing all the different perspectives from various health professional students. The university even funded us to travel around the country presenting our work as a student-led initiative at national conferences.

Through SAC, I also had the opportunity to sit on executive committee for C-IPE. I met faculty from all the different schools and was invited to join one of their curricular planning teams. Together, we created a new experiential IPE course featuring real patients from the Office of Patient Experience at Michigan Medicine called the Longitudinal Interprofessional Family Based Experience (LIFE), where students from a variety of health professional schools were put into teams to learn about their patients’ experiences with chronic disease and the impact of the social determinants of health. I had the opportunity to publish and present this innovative work across the country.

These C-IPE workgroups are on the cutting edge of the most novel IPE strategies. C-IPE has gone above and beyond to find creative ways to incorporate my voice as a student in the workgroups. They have never wavered in having a student join their team – in fact, they crave student input. Everyone at Michigan does their work in the name of the students and takes the time to listen to feedback. It has truly been a life-changing experience to be so supported and valued as a student. Combined with the excellence and training of the faculty, the high standard for research and scholarship and the drive to continue improving, the Center is poised to continue being an international leader in paving the way for IPE.

My experiences with C-IPE have helped me to develop numerous personal and professional skills. I have learned how to communicate better and make others feel like an important part of the team. I have confirmed the benefit of gathering different perspectives and relying on your teammates’ strengths. I have gained numerous tangible skills to improve my research and writing. I have made friends for life. I have confirmed the beauty of being part of a community here at Michigan that values your opinion and makes you feel heard. The list goes on and on, but I know that all these skills will only make me a better doctor and a better colleague on future care teams. I am so thankful that Michigan has supported me in following my passions and provided these incredible opportunities for development.

Caring for the Climate, It’s Essential Medicine

If you haven’t heard it before, climate change is being described as the greatest public health threat of this century. It is the topic of large international meetings, like last year’s COP26, where country leaders discussed carbon goals and made numerous commitments for cameras and newsstands. The topic is increasingly featured in political debates and in media where national conversations about our priorities as a country are held. Locally, Ann Arbor is investing in the A2Zero campaign to achieve carbon neutrality in the city.

We are, however, doing an insufficient amount to address the threat adequately. Oil investments are still being made, carbon taxes are being stalled in legislation, and investment in sustainable energy and waste management is slow. The medical system itself is a major contributor to the problem with its massive energy costs and production of physical waste. For these reasons, individuals in the medical sphere have to push for practices that may help curb the inevitable changes in climate ahead of us.

Another reason it is important for medical professionals to care about climate change is that we have a lot to contribute by looking at the issue in the ways we contemplate issues in human health. The prevention framework from the world of public health, I believe, can be applied to climate change in an unfortunately tidy way; we’re past the point of primary prevention (preventing climate change entirely), we’re failing at methods of secondary prevention (making interventions to reduce the speed of climate change) and we’re not unified in how to perform tertiary prevention (managing climate change in the long-term and the harms it is already causing).

In primary care you work with patients on health concerns that rarely have a simple fix, where numerous small actions accumulate into poor outcomes, and where there is distance between the timing of the health insult and health outcome. These are the same kinds of barriers that get in the way of making meaningful changes in the way of climate change.

In the way that stopping smoking is a difficult but assured way to improve one’s future health, our emissions and waste production today make life easier even if the consequences in 20 years will be life altering (on a global scale). However, we don’t have to wait 20 more years to see effects, we’re already seeing the results of climate change here in Michigan in the ways of increased frequency of extreme weather events, threats to food security and the expansion of the geographic ranges of vector-borne diseases. 

A Wolverine Street Medicine run in Detroit.

Like many issues in global public health, the negative effects of climate change are disproportionately being felt by more vulnerable populations. When taking the Homeless Healthcare elective, which is organized by the Wolverine Street Medicine student group, I had the unfortunate privilege of seeing the effects of climate change firsthand. Heavy rains made it impossible for people with lower extremity wounds to keep their legs dry on the street. High rates of COPD and asthma, partly attributable to city air quality, meant that needs for medicated inhalers were common (devices that have their own cost on the environment). Most life-threatening was the unseasonably cold weather during my rotation that caught many unhoused folks, even those with years of experience on the street, unprepared with sufficient supplies for staying warm. For these patients, worrying about the environment never stops; now coming into the warmer months they have to start thinking about how to stay cool and hydrated in humid summers. It is terribly difficult to live unhoused, and what we’re doing to the climate is not making it easier.

That humans are accelerating climate change is a fact that we’ve understood well for decades, and it’s something that I’ve known about since I was a kid. I remember that it was talked about in my 6th grade earth science class as global warming. I’m glad now that we recognize more is happening as a result of human activity than polar bears being stranded on melting ice flows. But the subject wasn’t anything I cared much about until it became a major part of my undergraduate education by accident; I wanted to study nutrition, and all of the food systems courses at my school were run through the department of environment.

My academic understanding of the issue was brought to reality when working in the urban agriculture scene in Detroit, where food sovereignty for communities was discussed as an assurance that they could provide for themselves knowing that their already-limited access to good food would be the first to go in the event of national food insecurity from climate change. Then it continued to be a theme in my graduate studies in public health, as I looked into understanding the interplay between our agricultural system, our nutrition and our climate. But when I started medical school, there was suddenly no talk about climate change. It was not a feature in the pre-clinical curriculum in areas where it clearly felt applicable. I learned of some more senior students who were engaged in individual projects that related to climate change and they had formed a little group that they used to vent about eco-anxiety and get feedback on their ideas. 

On Earth Day 2022, we announced the results of our Planetary Health Report Card and celebrated the planet with a vegan ‘Make-Your-Own Dirt Cup’ station.

Because of those students I was brought into a community of climate activists and have been able to make this a staple of my work today. I am a DOW Sustainability Fellow, the Co-Chair for Plant-Based Health with the Medical Students for a Sustainable Future and co-director of the White Coats for Planetary Health (WCPH), the organization born out of that small group of students that now organizes advocacy efforts for the elevation of climate change themes in all areas of UMMS’s functioning. Last summer, I was part of a group of students who presented to the academic cabinet about the need for more investment in climate change topics at our school, pointing to the report from the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality that was coming out with carbon production reduction mandates for the university.

In that presentation we discussed the need to comprehensively understand the school’s relationship with climate change and proposed that the school facilitate students completing the Planetary Health Report Card (PHRC). This is a tool developed for students to use to audit their medical school and how it engages with climate change in five different domains: Curriculum, Research, Community Engagement, Student Support and Operations. To date, 74 medical schools around the globe have participated in the international initiative.

Because of faculty support and passionate students, the WCPH were able to complete the PHRC for the first time this past year; UMMS scored a C+ with large areas to improve upon in how the school engages in climate teaching its core curriculum and how it engages on the topic with the local community and global academic movements. U-M is used to being the ‘Leaders and Best,’ and while a C+ is hardly a score to brag about, we now clearly know areas where our school can improve, and I feel the motivation to act from folks in all corners of University of Michigan Medical School.

I am immensely proud of WCPH and everything that we have been able to accomplish this past year.

  • We’ve hosted events in the Global Health and Disparities Path to share local environmental issues and connect climate change to different areas of medical practice.
  • We also improved upon the Planetary Health elective that our members put on in January to bring climate experts from around the country to run workshops with our students and outline actionable ways to get involved in climate advocacy.
  • We spurred the creation of a committee of school administrators that makes decisions toward achieving carbon neutrality at the Medical School. That represents the first committee at an individual school at the University of Michigan to address the topic, and WCPH has guaranteed permanent representation on it.

I am most proud of my student peers and how dedicated they are to this mission. It is reassuring to see more people each year coming into UMMS wanting to be involved in this area and make it a focus of their work outside of patient care.

If you’re a student and interested in learning more about climate advocacy here at UMMS, please reach out to WCPH at We would love to get you involved, and if you have an idea for a project we would love to help in any way.

To learn more about virtual opportunities and movements around the country, please join MS4SF. And if you’re a professional, please use your influence in your department to do some introspection. Every field contributes to the climate change problem, which means every field can contribute to creating solutions.

Fostering Community Through my M-Home Experience

I’ve had the pleasure to be involved with M-Home since my first weeks at University of Michigan Medical School, and it has truly shaped so much of my medical school experience. In those first weeks, we had an opportunity to run for student council positions, and I was surprised to find myself elected to an M-Home representative role.

It was overwhelming at first because I had little idea about what the role entailed or what M-Home was, given that it was pretty new to our medical school. But I would soon find out that M-Home would provide me with a community that helped to sustain me through the highs and lows of my medical school journey.

What is M-Home?
M-Home is a longitudinal learning community established at University of Michigan Medical School in 2015 as a way to provide a “home” for students within our school. M-Home is based around four Houses now named after significant figures in UMMS history: Dr. Amanda Sanford, Dr. Jonas Salk, Dr. William Henry Fitzbutler, and Dr. Alice Hamilton. Within each House there is a designated counselor, as well as two House faculty who serve as faculty for our Doctoring course. As part of orientation to UMMS, each student is sorted (yes, it’s very Harry Potter-esque) into their House in which they will have their Doctoring group of 10-12 students from their House.

I remember sitting in a large lecture hall in Fall of 2018 waiting to crack my glowstick that had been passed out to me as part of my class’s “sorting ceremony.” The lecture hall filled with laughs, cheers and excitement as we all cracked our glowsticks to see which House we were about to join. When I saw the color blue and knew I was joining Sanford House, I felt like I had a group of people I was instantly connected to, even though I had met very few of my classmates or faculty at that point.

I felt so moved and comforted in that first week being welcomed by our Sanford House reps and by our amazing counselor Amy. I wanted to be involved in leading the community, which led me to add my name to the running for M1 Sanford House rep. When I got the role, I found an even deeper connection to the House reps above me. My relationships with my M2, M3 and M4 reps created invaluable opportunities to receive advice and support for me as an M1. Being able to connect with other House reps has continued to be one of my favorite aspects of M-Home for the past four years.

My fellow M-Home House reps

Introducing M-Pods
As M-Home president, I have been involved in conversations on how we can bring the deep inter-class community that we feel as M-Home reps to the rest of our Medical School classmates, especially in the very isolating times of the COVID-19 pandemic. In my last weeks as a UMMS student I am helping to launch our new M-Pods program, which I envision as a connection “safety-net” for all medical students. We will be creating small groups with students from every class with the goal of giving every incoming student a contact to reach out to if they find themselves needing support or a simple piece of advice that they don’t already have the connections for.

I personally know how hard it can be to make the first move to reach out for help, and I am hopeful that our M-Pods project will make it easier for any medical student who struggles to connect. As I pass along this project to the rest of our amazing M-Home team to continue after my graduation, I hope that my efforts will create a deeper and more connected community for all University of Michigan Medical School students in the years to come.

M-Home Olympics: A fun, annual event that creates some friendly competition among the four Houses. Go Sanford House!


The LEAGUES Fellowship: Inclusion in Surgery

What is The LEAGUES Fellowship?

The LEAGUES (Leadership Exposure for the Advancement of Gender and Underrepresented Minority Equity in Surgery) Fellowship is a summer program in the Michigan Medicine Department of Surgery that is offered to medical students across the country between their first and second years of school. Our goals are to give early exposure to procedural specialties, and to create a pipeline for students who are from underrepresented backgrounds and who share our values of increasing diversity in medicine and surgery.

Each summer, LEAGUES fellows attend a four-week program at Michigan Medicine that includes seminars about surgery, sessions teaching key surgical skills, and mentored research projects with Department of Surgery faculty, culminating in a presentation at the Center for Healthcare Outcomes and Policy. The LEAGUES Fellowship was created by Michigan Medicine’s all-star general surgery resident Dr. Valeria Valbuena, and the program piloted in 2020. Our leadership team is made up of several UMMS medical students and surgery residents, and the wonderful Dr. Gifty Kwakye serves as our faculty advisor.

Getting Involved in LEAGUES
Coming into medical school, surgery was not on my radar as a possibility for myself. I was an anthropology major in college, and I did not believe that I fit into the stereotypical box that I had in my head at that time for a surgeon. The summer after my first year of medical school, I participated in a summer program for M1s at Michigan called Surgery Olympics. In this program, I did social sciences research with an incredible surgeon who also happens to be a minority, an immigrant, a Black woman, and a mother. If Surgery Olympics was the ignition, my M2 rotation on surgery was the spark, and I fell in love with surgery. I wanted to find a way to combine my excitement for the field with my desire to pay it forward by building a more diverse and inclusive surgical workforce and mentorship group. And, as sometimes happens at the University of Michigan Medical School, into my email inbox “walked” Dr. Valbuena with LEAGUES and an opportunity to get involved.

What Makes The LEAGUES Fellowship Special
To me, what makes LEAGUES a special program is its mission to help students who have fewer resources. Not only do we aim to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds, we also intentionally look for students who may have fewer research or mentorship opportunities at their school. Additionally, the faculty mentors that we pair with students are excellent. They work with the students to develop a practical research project that fits their interests, and they continue to invest in the students once they return to medical school. Previous LEAGUES fellows have published peer-reviewed manuscripts with their faculty and used their faculty to build more connections throughout academic medicine. The Michigan Medicine Department of Surgery is passionate about the LEAGUES program, and their efforts have led to an unparalleled opportunity for medical students.

Built by Trainees, for Trainees
LEAGUES is a program built by and built for trainees. The unique aspect of peer-to-peer mentorship within LEAGUES has provided me with the opportunity to be a mentor, even as a student, and to learn from peers across the country. The LEAGUES Fellowship not only allows you to be a leader at every stage in medical school, but also emphasizes this role. During the LEAGUES summer lecture series I shared my experiences in health policy and advocacy and was able to later speak at a LEAGUES fellow’s medical school to inspire their student group to start a similar advocacy project. I also had the opportunity to attend an academic conference with one of our LEAGUES fellows, and as we both edited our presentations together, attended talks and networked, I saw the joy of peer learning and mentorship. I learned a lot from her experiences as a social worker and osteopathic medical student and continue to learn from our fellows. The LEAGUES Fellowship successfully recruits diverse medical students who enrich any environment they enter.

The Best Part of LEAGUES
My favorite part of LEAGUES has been getting to know the people involved, including the fellows, my co-med student leaders, the residents and the faculty. Our LEAGUES fellows have been complete rock stars, and it is amazing to learn about the ways they live out their passions during medical school. It is also exciting to meet future colleagues in surgery from other medical schools. It is inspiring to get to know the residents who started and grew the fellowship and to see their example of allyship and advocacy during surgical residency. Listening to the program’s faculty-led seminars and learning about these leaders’ journeys to surgery has also been incredibly inspiring and motivating. Mentorship is huge, and our LEAGUES sessions leave me feeling inspired by leadership at all levels and encouraged about the future of surgery.

Making an Impact at the University of Michigan’s Student Run Free Clinic

My first volunteer shift at the University of Michigan Student Run Free Clinic (UMSRFC) took place at the beginning of September. At that point I had only been in medical school for a couple months and had just begun learning basic clinical skills like how to take a patient history. While nervous at the thought of interviewing a real patient instead of an actor (we often have actors called Standardized Patients play the role of patients in class for practice), I was excited to try to apply what I’d learned in the Doctoring course to an actual patient experience.

I absolutely stumbled through my first couple patient encounters. I fumbled to find the right words, unsure of what follow-up and clarifying information to request when my medical knowledge was so limited. I performed a physical exam alongside a fourth-year medical student, who guided me through where to put my stethoscope and which parts of the patient’s chest I should listen to. When she asked me if I heard anything abnormal, I said no. Truthfully, though, I couldn’t hear anything. I only realized when I got home that I’d been using the wrong side of my stethoscope!

The U-M Student Run Free Clinic is located in Pinckney, MI and provides a variety of services including but not limited to basic primary and preventative care services, referrals to radiology or dermatology, and psychiatric and gynecologic services.

The UMSRFC is an organization that’s dedicated to providing quality health care at no charge to uninsured residents of Livingston, Washtenaw, and Oakland counties. It is run by a leadership team composed of students from the U-M Medical School, School of Nursing, School of Pharmacy, School of Social Work and School of Public Health. Throughout the pandemic, the clinic has been able to remain open and has continued servicing patients, with 635 total visits in 2021. [Learn more about supporting the UMSRFC at this link or below!]

Because of how insecure I felt about my own skills that first day at the clinic, I was really blown away by the other student volunteers. It seemed incredible to me that in three short years I would have the knowledge needed to ask the right questions, to confidently examine a patient and judge whether they needed further care. If anything, volunteering in the clinic really made me aware of how much I still didn’t know, and how much I would soon learn. That day I took my first patient history, I learned how to write up a patient visit, I presented an oral history to an attending physician for the first time, and I got just a brief insight into the incredible organization, dedication and effort that goes into running the clinic.

I also had the privilege of volunteering at the clinic on an “interprofessional education” day, so rather than just medical students volunteering, the clinic was also staffed by both nursing and social work students. Together, we were able to provide pretty complete services for patients who came in. Through phone translator services I could ask questions to a patient who only spoke Spanish, through the new dermatology e-consult service we were able to set up a patient for a specialist appointment to further examine an irregular mole, and, most surprising to me, we were even able to provide a diabetic patient with free insulin, which he could not afford himself.

Why the UMSRFC Matters to Me
I came into medical school knowing that I wanted to become involved with the UMSRFC. Throughout my entire admittance process, during interviews, Q&As with current students, and searches through existing organizations at the school, the UMSRFC constantly came up. Since you do not have to be a member of the leadership team to volunteer with the clinic, many students get involved with the SRFC to gain more practical pre-clinical experience taking histories and performing physical exams before starting rotations in the hospital during the second year of medical school. What’s nice about the clinic is that it provides a very low-stress environment in which students can practice the skills they’ve been learning. As nervous as I was during my first shift at the clinic, I was certain that the older students and the trained physicians volunteering would help guide me. No one made me feel dumb when I couldn’t remember what a medication did or didn’t know the correct “SOAP” format used when presenting to an attending; instead, they supported and guided me through the unfamiliar terminology.

Having the opportunity to participate in patient interactions so early on in medical school is certainly a compelling reason to join the clinic, but I was most drawn to the interpersonal aspect of work with the UMSRFC, the opportunity to become more involved in the greater Pinckney community that I would a part of for the next four years. This was driven by my personal interest in public health and desire to make connections within the community that could help inspire or influence any future pursuits in this area. And so, I applied for and was selected as the Community Outreach Coordinator for the UMSRFC.

As Community Outreach Coordinator, I’m primarily responsible for running social media pages, finding volunteer opportunities for medical students at community events where they can provide medical services and promote the clinic, and serving as a liaison between community organizations and the UMSRFC. I’ve met community members, organized events, and had the opportunity to learn to balance school and personal responsibilities with those of the clinic.

As students, we are also required to complete a Capstone project by the end of our fourth year. One way that many students choose to complete this requirement is by joining a Path of Excellence and completing their project under guided mentorship of physicians/professionals with similar interests. I recently joined the Ethics Path of Excellence and hope to draw from relationships and observations made through work with members of the greater community when developing my research project.

What’s really great about the clinic is that because it is student-run, there is a lot of space for creativity and the cultivation of new ideas. There is so much flexibility for people to begin personal projects aimed at improving the clinic and expanding access to care; the experience really becomes what you make of it. Because truly, the clinic could not run without the volunteer services of undergraduate students, graduate students, and various board-certified clinical providers. In 2021, the clinic was kept running by 3600+ volunteer hours in and out of the physical clinic space.

Support is Critical to the UMSRFC’s Success
While volunteers provide services in the clinic, we also really rely on institutional funding, grants and individual donations from generous supporters and donors to remain effective and to be able to continue improving our quality of care. Among other efforts, this year the social work team partnered with the Gleaners Community Food Bank to provide emergency food boxes to patients experiencing food insecurity, a dermatology e-consult service was started to increase access to highly critical specialized service, and we were able to increase the number of vaccines stored at and distributed at the clinic. The pandemic has also created new needs to keep both volunteers and patients safe, such as face masks, goggles, hand sanitizer and the expansion of our virtual services.

Giving BlueDay is a University-wide day of giving that encourages supporters to donate to the U-M programs that are meaningful to them, and donations collected during Giving Blue Day (and on any day of the year!) are crucial in allowing us to continue expanding our services. Last year, UMSRFC was fortunate enough to raise more than $20,000 to help expand our services and sustain the clinic mission.

I want to thank all past donors and invite individuals to share our Giving BlueDay page and keep the clinic in mind when considering what organizations to donate to this year!