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Reaping the Benefits of a Summer at the Food Gatherers Farm Project

A few months ago, my friend Lisa Chionis (M2) messaged Morgan Bradford (M2) and me with a link to an Instagram post by @foodgatherers asking for volunteers at their annual Farm Project. The three of us had been working together on a culinary medicine elective for the past year, but because of the pandemic, we had never actually met each other in person. Volunteering at a farm sounded like a perfect way to finally spend an afternoon “in real life” together!

With Lisa Chionis, M2 (right), in our freshly weeded rows of corn on a beautiful day!

Food Gatherers is a local food bank and food rescue program in Washtenaw County, where Ann Arbor is located. The Farm Project is a collaboration between Food Gatherers, the Mindful Eating Coalition, and Bill Schmid (“Farmer Bill”), who volunteers his property as a space to grow fresh produce. Most of the produce is donated directly to Food Gatherers, and some produce is sold at his roadside stand to raise money for an additional cash donation. The project is run entirely by volunteers who plant seeds, weed, mulch, water, and harvest the crops!

On our first day, Lisa, Morgan and I showed up and got right to work on weeding the patch of corn together. As we made our way up and down the rows, we soon realized that we were the youngest volunteers there (probably by at least 20 to 30 years)! Despite the age gap, we felt right at home and had an incredible afternoon together.

Over the summer, I kept coming back to volunteer about once a week at the farm. My brother, an undergraduate at Michigan, also started joining me regularly, and this became our usual Monday evening ritual. I loved that we had this time to hang out with each other in the middle of our busy schedules. I also had a lot of fun getting to know the other “regulars” volunteering. We’d all swap stories about our lives, and I particularly loved hearing the ones about their grandkids’ latest shenanigans!

The last few months of my M4 year have been quite busy. I recently completed rotations in Hematology/Oncology and the ICU, and I’m now studying for my emergency medicine shelf exam and writing my residency applications. At the end of a long day, it has been so rejuvenating to take a break and spend a few hours volunteering outside in the sunshine and fresh air. There’s something so therapeutic about getting down in the dirt and plucking out those pesky weeds. Plus, you wouldn’t believe what a great full-body workout gardening can be with all the lifting and squatting! Week by week, the little seedlings that we planted in May took root and sprouted into magnificent stalks of corn, huge heads of cabbage, and all kinds of juicy tomatoes. I felt amazed by how much growth had taken place every week!

I’ve really loved my time at the Farm this summer. I encourage you to continue your hobbies and the things that “nourish” you while in medical school. I found it quite special to be able to combine my interests in gardening and nutrition, especially in the form of an important service project that is serving our community. As of September 1, we have already donated $3,000 and over 850 pounds of fresh produce to Food Gatherers. There is plenty more work to do as this is now peak tomato season. They just keep coming, so it’s going to be all hands on deck!

How to Succeed at Virtual Med School Interviews

The University of Michigan Medical School’s first 24 Hours in Blue Interview Day is just around the corner on September 10th. For those of you with medical school interviews scheduled — and those who hope to have interviews scheduled soon — members of our M1 class are here to give you their tips and tricks for making this day a success for you, too.

Topics range from how to set yourself apart and deciding where to interview to the do’s and don’ts of virtual interviews, getting the inside scoop from current students, and even some bonus tips. Take it from them – they were in your shoes one year ago. You’ve got this!

 

On how best to convey what sets you apart on the spot (or on camera):

  • “Oftentimes the things that set you apart don’t have to do with your academic qualifications, but rather your real life and work experiences, and even your hobbies!” -Matthew
  • “Have a list of anecdotal examples that highlight who you are and incorporate them into the conversation because they will only learn what you tell them about yourself, so share a lot!” -Gabriela
  • “Be yourself, be humble, and be confident. Those three things will give the admissions committee good insight on what makes you unique.” -Miles
  • “Just tell your story and be honest. When I messed up on interviews, it was usually because I was trying too hard to tell the interviewer what I thought they wanted to hear.” -Matt
  • “Know your story inside out, knowing your unique journey and being able to explain why that story has led you to medicine will automatically set you apart because no one else has your story!” -Navjit
  • “Be yourself, stay calm, and don’t worry or feel intimidated by the virtual nature of the interview. The committee is interviewing you not to grill you, but rather because they are super excited to learn more about you!” -Husain
  • “You are much more interesting and unique than you may think you are, and if you speak about your true passions, it will come across as genuine.” -Chloe
  • “Remember you’re talking to a PERSON not a screen. It can be easy to get stiff on camera but it’s important to relax and be organic.” -Lindsey
  • “Invest your time to really understand why you chose medicine and what makes you want to pursue it so much, where your passion for medicine came from and what maintained that interest all this time to continue pursuing it. This will also help you keep your perseverance through medical school.” -Aasma
  • “It is hard to convey emotion over a camera but I tried to keep eye contact and just convey that I was truly happy to be part of the interview process. Try your best to just have a normal conversation! You are already halfway there by making it to the interview.” -Hiba
  • “Leaning into your passions in an interview and throughout your written application ought to be enough to showcase your awesome-ness to the school that is right for you.” -Lindsay

The Incoming Class of 2021 at their recent White Coat Ceremony

On deciding where to interview, especially when travel costs aren’t a consideration:

  • “Don’t undersell yourself when applying, if you think you have a chance, take it!” -Niki
  • “Interview everywhere possible when travel costs aren’t a consideration. You don’t know how much you may like a school if you don’t choose to even interview and take the chance to explore its culture and environment.” -Aasma
  • “I really enjoyed the interview process. It was the first time I felt like people were seeing Sarah the person versus Sarah the numbers on a page. I got to be myself and that is even more available when there are remote interviews.” -Sarah
  • “Make sure the school you are interviewing at has resources in what you want to do (very important).” -Bruce
  • “Talk to other students or other applicants, if available. Culture is #1. The people who the school recruits say the most about their culture.” -Matt
  • “Do your research! You owe it to yourself and the schools interviewing you to make sure that you have spoken with students and faculty about the institution and the experience at their medical school.” -Ashwin
  • “Make sure you’re interviewing at schools that FIT you.” -Patrick
    “Interview at schools with significant financial aid and/or scholarships. Cost of attendance will be an important consideration when you decide which school to attend.” -Tosin
  • “You want to attend an institution that will nurture your passion and develop it into a craft.” -Hebah
  • “Notify a school early on if you aren’t considering their school anymore to save interviewers, schools, and other applicants time. Be sure to take advantage of your opportunities while still respecting others in the process.” -Sydney
  • “When researching for the interview, I always asked myself if I was excited to learn more about the school or if there was something in particular I was excited about. If not, then I would decide not to interview at the school.” -Hiab
  • “You should see every offer as if it is your potential home for the next four years.” -Mohammed
  • “If you truly cannot see yourself thriving in the city or your goals for medical school do not align with the mission of the school, do not interview!” -Emily
  • “Interview at the places you feel excited about attending! It makes preparing for the interviews enjoyable and your excitement day-of will be genuine.” -Cara
  • “Go into the interview open-minded. You never know how much you could see yourself at a specific program if you do not give yourself the opportunity to immerse yourself within the school’s culture.” -Amy

Do’s and don’ts for preparing for and thriving during virtual interviews:

DO’S

Find a Great Place to Set Up
  • “Preparing my background and the space where I did virtual interviews really helped me feel prepared.” -Rachel
  • “Stay in the same environment for each medical school interview if possible, which will help you remember your anecdotes and release nerves.” -Ashwin
  • “Choose a comfortable spot. For me, interviewing from a familiar desk at home improved my performance rather than interviewing from a new location.” -Navjit
  • “Investing in a mini ring light if you can afford it can be helpful if you are in a setting with bad or variable lighting, it just looks professional.” -Juliana
  • “Use a study/conference room somewhere if you can (work, school, etc.). This helped me move from my home to a more professional setting and got my nerves up a little so I could have an edge while interviewing.” -Sarah
  • “Set up your camera to be in good front lighting and put it on a RAISED platform! Having a camera angle pointed straight at your face or even pointed down toward your face makes you look more engaged and is a better angle for aesthetics as well.” -Jayna
  • “Give your living-mates ample notice and reminders about your interview days so they can plan ahead about supporting you by keeping the home relatively quiet.” -Lindsay
Dress the Part
  • “Wear both a dressy top and bottoms to avoid awkwardness if you need to stand up.” -Josh
  • “Wear cozy socks/slippers! A silly tip, but a perk of virtual interviewing that helped me feel much more comfortable during an otherwise stressful situation.” -Anjali
Make Eye Contact
  • “Put a picture you like to look at right next to your camera. It made it really easy to look directly at it, even when I was nervous.” -Sarah
  • “Looking at the camera isn’t needed if the camera is right above your screen – instead just sit a bit farther away.” -Pratik
  • “Virtual eye contact is achieved much more effectively if you look into the computer camera rather than the eyes of the person on screen. It is a little weird to get used to, but you do get used to it!” -Olivia
  • “You have to really engage with your interviewer. They don’t have any physical cues and body language is harder to read, so acting interested and really being an active listener is important.” -Mary
Prepare for Potential Tech Issues
  • “Prepare for the worst with respect to technology, and be adaptable if something goes wrong.” -Bruce
  • “Establish a stable internet connection beforehand and make sure it is steady.” -Sagar
  • “Have an ethernet cable nearby in case you need it, and a phone that can be a mobile hotspot if the wifi is bad that day. I ended up using both at some point.” -Lindsey
Practice, Practice, Practice
  • “The flow of conversation is simply different. Due to the lag, you may cut someone off or vice versa, this takes some practice and compassion.” -Jasdeep
  • “Thoroughly read your application beforehand and learn the format of the interview (1:1 with faculty, MMI, group activity, etc).” -Tosin
  • “Google potential questions and do mock interviews with them over and over.” -Noah
  • “Use your computer to record yourself answering interview questions and use that to gauge your eye contact, facial expressions, and fluidity of speech (speed, use of “um,” etc.).” -Chloe
  • “Always pause and take a breath before answering the question, you don’t want to start talking as soon as the interviewer finishes asking the question.” -Mohammed
  • “Take a video of yourself in the setting and outfit you plan to wear for the interview, ask a friend or family member to conduct a practice Zoom with you! This will help you ensure internet connection and Zoom background are updated.” -Emily
Take Breaks
  • “Try to take advantage of all breaks possible, Zoom fatigue is very real.” -Hiab
  • “HAVE A DANCE PARTY BETWEEN INTERVIEWS! During my interview day I turned on music and my group danced! It was fun and shocked the nerves right out.” -Sarah
  • “I would walk around whenever there were breaks because sitting down for that long can be very difficult.” -Hiba
Bring Refreshments
  • “Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day to help you reset between interviews.” -Jasdeep
  • “I kept small snacks, water, and tea handy, so that I would be able to sneak in a few bites here and there during long Zoom interviews.” -Erin

DON’TS

Don’t Sweat the Tech Issues
  • “Don’t panic. The issue will be resolved, and you don’t want to be flustered in your interview.” -Matthew
  • “Don’t worry if a technical issue occurs that causes a lag or signs you out of the call. The admissions team are incredibly helpful and they’ll make sure your interview process is as smooth as possible (one of the defining features of my UMMS interview, an incredibly smooth and enjoyable process)!” -Hebah
  • “Most importantly: relax and be you. Even if you feel like one part didn’t go well or you are having tech issues, take a deep breath and start fresh. Contact the person you are told to contact when you are having issues and know everything will work out just fine.” -Aasma
  • “If you experience a connectivity problem, treat it as a chance to show your interviewer that you can competently handle a difficult or awkward situation.” -Ahab
More Don’ts
  • “Don’t hesitate to ask your interviewer to restate a question.” -Jorge
  • “Don’t be the person who’s grossly underdressed on interview day or constantly interrupting others (leave room for others to speak).” -Mikaelah
  • “Don’t swivel in a spinning office chair. To remove the temptation, I replaced my desk chair with a chair from my kitchen table.” -Jess
  • “Don’t spend too much time looking at your own video – it’s distracting! Focus on the videos of the people interviewing you – this simulates a more normal conversation :)” -Cara
  • “Don’t forget to smile and breathe! (it is virtual, but I know I still felt very anxious and had to keep reminding myself)
  • “Don’t forget to pause at times! With potential delays in the feed, it may take a few moments for one person to stop talking and another to start speaking. This is especially true in group interviews as gaps are needed as a queue for another to start speaking.” -Tyler
  • “Don’t look down at notes or at another screen during the interview. While it may be helpful to have notes on hand to remember things you want to mention during the interview, make sure to put them out of sight prior to the interview. The conversation should be natural.” -Amy

On getting the inside scoop from current students at the schools you’re interested in before/during/after you interview:

  • “In the virtual format, every perspective matters. Pay special attention to what and how current students talk about their school. If the same complaint keeps showing up, that is probably a red flag.” -Matt
  • “I can’t stress enough the importance of sending a few emails ahead of sending your secondaries and during the interview process.” -Ashwin
  • “Follow schools’ Twitter and Facebook pages to find opportunities to talk to current students!” -Navjit
  • “Almost everyone is very willing to offer advice, they were in the same situation a few short years earlier.” -Mary
  • “Seeing whether the students seem relaxed and enthusiastic in answering our questions or hosting the info sessions can also show what type of learning environment and culture the school has. Med school is tough anywhere, but if the students seem happy and relaxed despite the pressure, that’s fantastic.” -Aasma
  • “Don’t be afraid to be candid with the students, such as making them know what you are specifically looking for in a school.” -Josh
  • “Always ask questions. If in a student-led pre-interview session, have the courage to unmute your microphone and talk to them; that’s what they’re taking time out of their busy schedules to help you with!!” -Mohammed
  • “If the school offers an opportunity for you to talk to current students anytime in the interview season, tune in! You don’t have to participate at every one or any, but I found listening in at the very least to be helpful. Seeing how current students interact (their fondness for each other / inside jokes) with each other was reassuring.” -Lindsay
  • “Go in with a list of questions around topics/aspects you care deeply about and ask at every school to multiple people if possible. This will give you good points of consensus (or not) within a school and comparison between them.” -Andrea

Bonus tips on the overall application process:

  • “It can be very easy to be self-deprecating and compare yourself to others during this process, but surrounding yourself with your supporters can truly make the stress of the application process bearable.” -Amy
  • “Enjoy the process, it’s a big step but it’s full of learning experiences and great memories!” -Niki
  • “Remember, you are interviewing schools just as much as they are interviewing you!” -Tyler
  • “The interview process is the only time an applicant can come alive from a statistic or a piece of paper. Don’t be afraid to vocalize your passion, value, and drive that will distinguish you as a unique asset to the specific medical school and, largely, the field of medicine.” -Erin
  • “If you know your interviewer’s name ahead of time, do a bit of research. It was helpful to me to look at a picture of the individual beforehand, so their face was more familiar to me when we were introduced on zoom. It eased my nerves to see a familiar face!” -Cara
  • “Be patient!” -Emily
  • “When completing an application, answering an essay, or getting interviewed, always be honest and be yourself, that is the one way to get yourself accepted to medical school.” -Mohammed
  • “Always stay true to who you are. Trust the process. Remember that everything isn’t always in your control and make the most of the opportunities that present themselves to you.” -Sydney
  • “Don’t compromise your happiness. Make sure where you attend you can see yourself being happy, and your interests being valued.” -Aasma
  • “See each application and interview as a learning process through which you grow and become even more confident in your capabilities. By the end of it, you’re one step closer to becoming the physician of your dreams. Simply enjoy it.” -Hebah
  • “Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice! Your support system of advisors, family, and/or friends can relieve some of the worries associated with applying to medical school and provide useful feedback.” -Chloe
  • “The application process can be daunting, but I think it is really important that you take a step back and look at all that you have done to get to this point. It is truly amazing! No matter how the cycle goes, you can be proud of yourself.” -Olivia
  • “Overall, be patient and kind to yourself during the application process. It will feel overwhelming at times, but know that there are people you will encounter along the way who can help you.” -Tosin
  • “Don’t ever give up throughout this process. It can be difficult and grueling. I ended up reapplying to medical school after not being accepted my first cycle. I used this additional year to grow, better reflect on my application and have conversations with medical schools across the country. Believe in yourself and keep pushing!” -Ashwin
  • “Be genuine! The best thing you can do is present your authentic self. If you’re accepted, you’ll know that the school wanted the authentic you. If you don’t, you shouldn’t have regrets.” -Jasdeep

Good Luck and Go Blue!

LEADing the Future of Medicine at Michigan

About a year ago, over fifty thousand pre-med students began the application process for medical school. In a time of immense uncertainty, social isolation, civil unrest, and fear of losing loved ones, applicants like myself experienced an added level of unpredictability. What already seemed like an insurmountable process was further complicated by postponed MCAT dates and impending virtual interviews. Though much has changed with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, we remain in the midst of a global pandemic with new health inequities and political divides. The rapidly changing landscape has highlighted the need to equip future physician leaders with the tools to tackle the diverse and unpredictable challenges of our lifetime.

The University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS) Leadership and Enrichment for Academic Diversity (LEAD) program addresses this need. Along with 19 other M0s (pre-matriculating medical students), I attended a virtual two-week program centered around diversity, leadership, and social justice through early exposure to UMMS culture and resources available to ensure our success through medical school. The mission of LEAD is to build upon our professional and leadership skills, empower us to advocate for ourselves and our peers, and provide us with tools to address health disparities and inequities today and in the future.

A few of us met for the first time in person at Dominick’s. After months of social distancing, we initially struggled to remember how to interact, but we managed to figure it out pretty quickly.

Through engaging presentations by faculty, staff, and guest speakers, we discussed topics such as finding mentorship, qualities of a great leader, and improving communication skills. Additionally, we engaged in difficult, but pertinent discussions on racism, microaggressions, and social determinants of health. We addressed student well-being, and the various mental health resources available to us, including M-Home counseling and peer support groups. Through LEAD, it quickly became clear to me that UMMS harnesses a unique culture of openness, promotes wellness, and actively implements new programs to support its diverse class of students.

“The LEAD program acted as a bridge to medical school. Michigan medical students come from all walks of life with gap years ranging from 0 to 2+ years. However, we all arrived here with a common identifier, as University of Michigan medical students. This sentiment was reinforced on the very first day of LEAD.”
–Oluwatomi ‘Tomi’ Lawal, M1

The LEAD program, which is usually held in person, was beautifully adapted for Zoom and vastly surpassed my expectations. My colleagues and I developed an instantaneous mutual respect and understanding with one another through sharing our stories and vulnerabilities. My personal lesson from LEAD is to have the courage to express my opinions on the off chance that there are others who feel the same way. Whether others are in agreement or not, it often leads to interesting discussions which fosters a deeper understanding for one another.

Now into my third week of medical school, I realize that the inclusivity I experienced is not unique to LEAD, rather it is a function of UMMS culture as a whole. As I think back to my virtual interview day, I distinctly remember a moment where Director Teener encouraged us to just be ourselves and to believe that our unique communication styles were exactly what UMMS is looking for. At this moment, fears melted into tears of joy, and set the tone for my entire experience so far. I am grateful to be a part of an institution, a family, that attracts culturally competent students from all walks of life, that celebrates our differences and our unique paths that have led us to this point.

On the first day of M1 Launch, Dean Gay welcomed us by exactly pinpointing our feelings of excitement, anxiousness, and fear (I managed to hold back my tears this time). He told us not to see one another as competition, but rather as inspiration. Inspiration to do better, to be better. As I look around at the amazing and resilient peers with whom I will experience my medical journey, whom I will learn from and grow with, it has become immensely clear to me that our diversity is our strength. It is what sets us apart. It is the very thing that will make us great future physician LEADers.

At the Forefront of Medical Research: Embracing the Unknown

My research interests have evolved over the years. As an undergraduate at Michigan, I spent three months in Hangzhou, China studying iron deficiency and its effects on cognition in 9-and-18-month-old infants. Although I spent most of the summer coding videos and entering data, I learned much more about the process of conducting research, which involved lots of reading, asking questions, maintaining a healthy amount of skepticism, and most importantly, embracing the unknown.

Daniel Moura (on my right) and the entire research team alongside myself at the Zhejiang School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China.

After graduation, I spent one year working as an AmeriCorps Vista member, where I helped facilitate college access workshops for 9th graders and their families. As a Vista, I also had to live at the poverty level for Washtenaw County (the county Ann Arbor is located in), which was $13,000 at the time. Not only did I have to apply for food stamps and learn how to budget, among other life skills, but I also began to understand the financial hardship that many families in our country face on a day-to-day basis. Not knowing if you can afford rent, healthy food, or health insurance is something that many of us in medicine, including myself, don’t have to think about and often take for granted. This experience sparked my interest in health disparities research and led me to Johns Hopkins, where I earned a master’s degree in epidemiology.

As a graduate student, my research focused on the relationship between the social determinants of health (e.g., education level) and obesity using data from a community study called ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities). During my time in graduate school, my mentor Dr. Josef Coresh encouraged me to apply for a Diversity Supplement, a grant awarded to minority students to increase diversity in the research workforce. I learned in graduate school about the importance of choosing the right research mentor—someone who invests in your academic success and personal well-being, and connects you to others if there is a need they can’t meet. Typically, the process of finding the right mentor is often trial and error. I still remember the days when Dr. Coresh and I would go to spin class or eat dinner at Fells Point in Baltimore.

My mentor Dr. Josef Coresh (left), and I at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health graduation ceremony.

When deciding on where to attend medical school, I wanted to be at a place with excellent clinical training, ample opportunities for research, and a vibrant, diverse, and supportive community. Michigan fit all three criteria. I also knew that I wanted to get involved in research in medical school, but I was unsure about what kind of doctor I wanted to be and how to get involved. I reached out to an upperclassman I knew who had taken a year away from medical school to participate in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Medical Research Scholars Program. He loved his experience, and he and other mentors at Michigan encouraged me to apply.

The NIH Medical Research Scholars Program is a year-long, paid, mentored research fellowship on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. I chose to apply because the NIH is at the forefront of medical research. They have the world’s leading experts in every field of medicine, and all patients who receive care at the NIH Clinical Center (the nation’s largest research hospital) are on a research protocol. During the COVID-19 pandemic, being surrounded by the experts leading the charge to develop a safe and effective vaccine and other medical devices and therapies to combat the virus was truly a privilege.

My roommates and I enjoying some good food at our ugly sweater party.

At the NIH, I wanted to try something new and gain additional skills to complement my public health background. I also felt that to understand health disparities better, I needed to have a solid understanding of the biological determinants of health. At the NIH, I worked with Dr. Rebecca Brown, a fantastic mentor and world expert in lipodystrophy, studying the mechanisms of action of leptin therapy and associated changes in energy expenditure in patients with partial and generalized forms of lipodystrophy. The analyses I conducted led to new questions and hypotheses that turned into new projects.

Celebrating the groom Tochukwu Ndukwe (right), who is now a PGY-1 in Ophthalmology at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary.

At the NIH, there were opportunities to take classes, attend national (virtual) meetings, listen to lectures by medical experts, and explore some of the great restaurants in D.C. My experience at the NIH was nothing short of transformative. I worked on exciting projects, formed new friendships with my co-scholars, learned from the brightest minds, and even had time to make it to my classmate’s wedding.

My journey in medicine has been filled with twists and turns, but each unique experience has helped shape me into the kind of physician I aspire to be. It’s okay to delve into new experiences even if it’s uncomfortable. Learning what you like and don’t like is critical early in your career, and having supportive mentors who have your best interest at heart can be life-changing.

PalMD: Palliative Care Skills in Practice during Medical School

As first-year medical students, we founded PalMD. It is a student organization dedicated to providing skills and knowledge to students on palliative and end-of-life care, regardless of desired specialty. We host lectures, interactive workshops, and events dedicated to wellness on the wards.

At our first PalMD event during our M1 year!

We each came to medical school with different reasons for our interest in palliative care. We had shadowed palliative care teams, conducted palliative care research, worked in hospice, and watched the suffering of family members eased by excellent palliative care teams. We had all seen the importance of clear, supportive communication in times of calm and crisis. 

We were lucky to attend Michigan Medical School, where students are given every opportunity to pursue and explore passions, even by forming a new student group! So, as newly minted M1s, we put our heads (and passion!) together, and with the help of palliative care physician, Dr. Laura Taylor, formed PalMD. 

Among our different types of events, our group hosts workshops to help empower students to cope with difficult encounters on and off the wards. Our recent event was a session focused on debriefing difficult conversations on the wards. The students at the meeting shared tough stories, and Dr. Taylor helped us work through these interactions. We left the session with clear heads and the tools to debrief future interactions. 

Customizing the Clinical Trunk: How I Engaged with Underserved Communities During My Clinical Clerkships

From the moment I decided to apply to medical school, I knew that I was interested in working with underserved populations. As someone from a low-income background myself and from working with many underserved populations through volunteering and working in Chicago where I did undergrad, I saw the immense need for dedicated healthcare providers in these communities.

When interviewing at Michigan, I looked for the opportunities to work with these communities, as I did in all of my medical school interviews, and remember students discussing various ways they worked with diverse and underserved populations. From opportunities such as volunteering at the Student-Run Free Clinic or completing my emergency medicine rotation in Detroit during the Branches, I was excited about the various options Michigan gave to create a path in medical school that aligned with my passions. Despite this excitement, I was also worried that a core of my clinical learning, the clinical trunk or M2 year, would lack the opportunity to work with underserved populations as most of the clinical year is completed at the University of Michigan Hospital. While the University of Michigan sees patients from all over the state and even the country, it is no secret that a lot of patients in the Ann Arbor area are more affluent than surrounding cities and have access to excellent health care that not everyone in the country is afforded. I knew that I would receive a great education, but would I be able to help the underserved like I wanted to? It turns out the answer is yes.

M2s Kyle Wickham and Taylor Morgan at the orientation for the Hamilton Community Health Network rotation.

One of my first clinical clerkships was Family Medicine where I worked at the Ypsilanti Health Center. Ypsilanti is a town just southeast of Ann Arbor and is home to some of the best food I’ve found in the area (check out Lan City and La Torre, you won’t regret it). I chose this location not only for the food, but also to begin to see patients from populations I eventually wanted to work with in my career. During this month, I worked with patients who could not afford medication to control their diabetes, who didn’t want to go to the emergency room despite our suggestion due to the associated cost, who was in the process of getting deported and had to leave their entire family behind, and many others with circumstances and experiences that were novel to my medical career. I found that many of my appointments weren’t simply focused on diagnosing a condition and coming up with a plan to fix this medical problem, but rather having to discuss their life circumstances and put their health in the context of their overall life in order to come up with viable options that I might not have ever thought about with patients not in their position.

In addition to working in Ypsilanti, the Family Medicine clerkship also offers excursion days where you can work at various clinics or sites for a day to see different aspects of family medicine. These experiences ranged from doing home visits to working in a sports medicine clinic, but the one that interested me was the Corner Health Center, which is a clinic that provides free services to patients aged 12-25 that range from general health care, obstetric and newborn care, mental health, support services, and more. While I only spent one morning working at this clinic, I was excited to be able to participate in an organization that provided such necessary services and was working to improve the overall health of young people.

The last experience I had during my clinical year working with populations outside of Ann Arbor was during my outpatient month of Internal Medicine. During this month, students are typically assigned to specialty and general internal medicine clinics that they work at once a week; however, there is an option for students that are interested to request to work at a clinic that primarily works with underserved populations. As you can probably guess by now, I requested to work at one of these clinics and was assigned to Hamilton Community Health Network in Flint, MI. Hamilton Community Health Network is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), which means they receive money from the government to cover health care-associated costs for those who cannot pay and also see lots of patients with government insurance, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Their mission is to provide care for low-income patients, regardless of their insurance or ability to pay. In addition to general health care, the clinic I worked in included in- office dentistry, pharmacy, x-ray, blood labs, and subspecialty services from the University of Michigan such as urology and ob/gyn that saw patients weekly. Many of the patients I saw were unable to drive themselves or afford public transportation and needed to utilize transportation from their insurance to come to the office. With physical and/or financial restrictions, it was important for them to be able to see the doctor, get their labs, and pick up their prescription all in the same day at the same place or else they would not be able to. I saw how seemingly small things such as coming to a return appointment, which normally I would suggest to a patient without hesitation, were major barriers to the health care these patients received. This experience allowed me to see everything we take for granted in a well-resourced health care system and gave me experience working in an environment where all aspects of the patient’s life must be considered.

Reflecting on my clinical year, I am grateful for the opportunities I was given to work with populations that I care so much about. These experiences were among the most impactful I have had this year and have taught me important lessons that will make me a better doctor. While not everyone has the same experiences as me, I saw that you are able to tailor your clinical year to your interests and can see patients from different backgrounds than those at Michigan Medicine. As I enter the Branches, I am excited to continue to incorporate these experiences into my medical school career, and I have already scheduled a month to return to the Corner Health Center for an adolescent medicine rotation! While the Branches are a great place to explore your interests and passions, know that the clinical trunk has lots of flexibility and many unique opportunities to work with patients from many backgrounds.