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Space Medicine at Michigan Medical School: Creating an Online Elective

My interest in the space sciences began in 5th grade when I read a biography on Robert Goddard (creator of the first liquid-fuel rocket). To say reading was a hobby would be an understatement because I could never be found without a book in my hands, but the stories I most enjoyed reading most were those that got me closer to space and the stars – stories such as biographies of Edwin Hubble, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, or Sally Ride. As a child, I would fervently follow all NASA updates, mesmerizingly look at the night sky for hours, and watch all the space-related documentaries I could find.

Contributing to the advancement of the space frontier became my greatest childhood dream. To make this dream a reality, I always naively believed that I had to pursue a career in engineering. So, when I fell in love with biology and medicine at the end of high school, I thought my dream would remain just that. I did not know how to marry my love for medicine with my avid interest in space until I eventually learned of aerospace medicine (and its subset field of space medicine) whilst researching medical schools. Albeit a little late, I realized that I no longer wanted to delay pursuing my passion for space, and – as Professor Randy Pausch once said in his famous book The Last Lecture – I wanted to make my childhood dream a reality. Thus, when I was accepted to the University of Michigan Medical School in 2017, I committed to making a career for myself in space medicine and to bring it to my school and my peers.

Since then, I’ve immersed myself in the field and tried to soak up everything about it. I first attended the Red Risk School webinar series as an M1, which was how I learned of the Aerospace Medicine Association’s (AsMA) meeting the following month. I instantly spoke to my school counselor, Amy Tshirhart, to arrange for time off to attend the meeting. Amy knew of my interest in space medicine, and she has been my greatest advocate in pursing this interest during medical school – for which I will be eternally grateful! Attending that AsMA meeting in May 2018 was nothing short of a breath of fresh air for me. I felt rejuvenated and at awe at the world I stumbled upon where everyone shared the same passion for medicine and space as I did. I was shocked that I did not know about this community earlier, but I was committed to getting involved as soon as I could.

Over the next few years of medical school, I slowly but surely began to reach out to faculty who could mentor me in this interest. It took me a while to collate a list of names – as this is quite a niche field – but everyone I spoke to was immensely supportive of my interest and supportive of helping me further develop it! This is what has been the best aspect of being at a school like the University of Michigan; instead of giving me a puzzling look when I said I am interested in space medicine, everyone at the school instead responded with curiosity, awe, and an equal eagerness to bring this unique topic to the school and share it with others.

With support from faculty and peer mentors (both at U-M and within the national aerospace medicine community I was now connected with) I applied to and have gotten accepted to NASA’s Aerospace Medicine Clerkship and the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Course in Principles of Aerospace Medicine – both of which I am scheduled to attend this year. Just earlier this week, I also submitted my application to a new medical student rotation at SpaceX! The opportunities for students are expanding, and I have been very excited about this!

Despite this rapid growth of space medicine though, to date, there are sparse formal educational opportunities available for medical students to gain more knowledge and exposure to the field. The few opportunities that do exist are found at select universities and are in-person experiences, thus limiting their accessibility. As a result, many students around the country, and here at UMMS, remain unaware of the application of and possibilities within the field of space medicine. This was how I became passionate about increasing students’ knowledge of and access to this field. Quickly, I realized that a short, online mode of delivery for this content does not currently exist, and this is the gap I hoped to fill. This led me to work on two projects that are quite near and dear to my heart.

First, I led the development of a two-week online and self-paced Introduction to Space Medicine elective for Branch medical students, which launched this January! The aim of this course is to create an online curriculum that informs students about the field and principles of space medicine. The goal is to inspire students to engage with and contribute to the ongoing efforts within the field of space medicine, to explore the possibilities of building a niche in this field for their future careers, and to become the next generation of leaders in space medicine. Through a series of readings, PowerPoints with integrated case studies, journal articles, online lectures/videos, podcasts, other supplementary assignments, and quizzes/assessments, students will gain insight into the field of space medicine, the effects of microgravity on human physiology, the health challenges associated with prolonged spaceflight and aviation, and current clinical applications to mitigate these risks. Through this course, students will also be introduced to the work of various leaders in the field of space medicine, and interested students can ask to be connected to these folks as career and research mentors.

This course has been well received by the 20 enrolled students thus far, and my next goal is to expand it to other schools at the University of Michigan and other medical schools nationwide. I developed this course with the help of a six-student team (across three different medical schools) and my faculty course director, Dr. Jim Bagin (ex-NASA astronaut and faculty in the Department of Anesthesiology). I owe a lot to my team to helping make this vision a reality! My partner in crime in this project, Riley Ferguson, has also arranged for this course to launch at her medical school (the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine) in January of 2022!

Second, I created a chapter for the Aerospace Medicine Student and Resident Organization (AMSRO) in the Fall of 2020 to serve as an interest group at the school, and I have been using the platform to help other interested students gain a footing in this field. I organize monthly talks and seminars which have drawn students from all over the world (UK, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Australia)! At the end of the day, I am most happy to cultivate students’ interests in this way and to promote connections and mentorships in this field for all.

Overall, though it certainly took me some time to find the space medicine community, now that I have, I am more eager than ever to dive in and contribute. I am humbled to see what has come of a vision I had early on in medical school, and I am excited to see what more will come of it! I know that with the support of the administration here, space medicine at UMMS will continue to grow and reach more students each year and expand nationwide!

Ultimately, my long-term goal is to combine my medical training and passion for space by contributing to the advancement of commercialized spaceflight one day. Achieving an enhanced understanding of this topic is of particular importance with the advent of commercialized spaceflight at the near horizon. As part of the next generation of physicians, I want to be ready for the responsibility to tackle the health challenges of this ultimate medical frontier, and I very much plan on making a niche in my future career for this work! I can only thank UMMS from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to pursue my passion for space medicine, helping me set my career trajectory in motion, and helping me get closer to making my childhood dream a reality.

Health Equity Scholars Program: Nutrition Lessons with the Detroit Food Academy

The Health Equity Scholars Program (HESP) is a student organization here at the University of Michigan Medical School with the primary goals of building collaborative community partnerships, addressing health inequity, and providing educational opportunities for students. We hope to create sustainable change, meaningful partnerships, and prepare future leaders to work in the health equity space. Our main community partners are Peace Neighborhood Center (PNC) located here in Ann Arbor and Detroit Food Academy (DFA) in Detroit. Under the guidance of our faculty mentor Dr. Brent Williams, our leadership team is filled with M1s working to arrange educational seminars for our peers, create new community partnerships, and foster existing ones. Pictured below is our phenomenal leadership team (on Zoom of course)!

HESP 2020-21 Leadership Team: Lucy St. Charles, Shriya Suresh, Lahari Nandikanti, Morgan Bradford, Rachel Croxton, Trisha Gupte, Annika Brakebill, and Sadhana Chinnusamy

Recently, in collaboration with Detroit Food Academy (DFA), we hosted seminars on nutrition for students in DFA’s after-school cohorts. DFA was founded in 2012 and is a 501(c) non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring young Detroiters to explore the culinary arts and food entrepreneurship. HESP’s long standing relationship with DFA has historically involved UMMS medical students running annual health education days for DFA students each summer. In July 2020, these health educational sessions were adapted to a virtual setting for the first time. Upon receiving positive feedback from students on this virtual experience, our incoming leadership team was eager to expand upon our relationship with DFA and explore opportunities to deliver a session to students during the school year for the first time.

Through administering a survey to the after-school cohorts at DFA, we learned that students were extremely interested in learning more about the nutritional contents of the foods they cook with each week. To address students’ interests, we created an interactive educational session on nutrition for the virtual setting. We held three of these lessons in the month of January, and with each one, cultivated an immense amount of gratitude for the conversations we had with the incredible students of DFA!

Every DFA session begins with a check-in; music selected by the teachers and students plays in the background to ease the awkwardness often associated with the beginnings of Zoom calls. For our first nutrition session, we couldn’t help but sway along to the beat of an already personal favorite of ours, “Do It” by Chloe x Halle, alongside the DFA students and facilitators. Next, we each described how we were feeling that day and then answered the question, “What are positive and negative ways in which you cope with stress?”

Following this check-in, we kicked off the lesson by asking students to come up with their own definitions of nutrition. In just a few short minutes, our conversation centered around what the foods we eat do for us. To delve deeper into how different nutrients work to nourish our bodies, we covered examples of macro- and micronutrients. For each nutrient, we talked both about how it works in our bodies and about what types of foods the nutrient can be found in.

A slide taken from our nutrition presentation highlighting the macro nutrients

Perhaps the most engaging and exciting part of our lesson was the portion covering what variety in nutrition can look like. We asked students to think about three meal items they would include in a healthy plate and created a word cloud with all of the foods they came up with. Here is an example from one of our sessions included below!

Word cloud created by DFA students when asked to about a healthy plate

After reflecting on the word cloud in each lesson, we found that Western foods like grilled chicken, steamed broccoli, and roasted carrots tended to take up the most space. With each lesson we discussed how there could always be more room for variety in the ways we envision what a healthy plate looks like. To explore this topic further, we asked students to identify differences in nutrition guidelines from around the world. We also shared a resource we came across called The Institute for Family Health, which showcases a series of healthy plates from different countries.

To wrap up our lesson, we asked students to reflect on what nutrition looks like in their lives. This part of the lesson was especially exciting as we greatly enjoyed hearing about the different types of foods students have been loving recently. In thinking about the different macro- and micronutrients included in these foods, we helped students apply topics from the lesson into their everyday lives. Additionally, we also gained inspiration for many new foods we now want to try!

Creating Impact through the Luke Clinic Baby Book Project

I started volunteering at The Luke Project 52 Clinic at the beginning of the Branches curriculum, during my 3rd year of medical school at the University of Michigan. One of my good friends and recent alum, Dr. Meghan Rowe, had chosen the clinic for her continuity site, so she would make the drive every other week for her last two years of medical school. Living in Detroit for a month-long rotation with the Detroit Public Health Department, I decided to join in one day and see if I could help out. I realized immediately how incredible this organization is. The Luke Clinic was founded to address the high rates of infant mortality and health disparities in Detroit and surrounding areas. They offer free prenatal, postpartum and infant care to any family in Detroit, and most patients are under- or un-insured. The cornerstone of Luke Clinic’s philosophy, which the clinic co-founders Brad and Sherie Garrison emphasize, is the relationships providers build with the families that visit. The clinic seeks to offer support and care for new parents at what can be an incredibly transformative and vulnerable period in someone’s life.

The Luke Clinic Mobile Van – photo credit to Meghan Rowe.

The clinic noted that, due to limited access to medical care, some children may go months to years without regular check-ups. When they do see health care providers, factors such as housing instability make it challenging for children to stay within the same health care system, and it can be hard for providers in different systems to closely monitor child growth and development. Pediatricians keep track of children’s growth and development, including meeting milestones such as having a social smile, learning to say some words, or sitting independently. When health care providers notice a child may be behind in one or more developmental milestones, early interventions can make a big impact to ensure that children grow to their full potential.

To address this need, Dr. Rowe started working on the Luke Clinic Baby Book for her capstone project. She talked with new parents and staff at the clinic to create the very first prototype – an illustrated book with space to keep track of basic health information such as height and weight, educational information for parents on developmental milestones, and plenty of space for pictures to make the book fun. After her graduation, since I loved visiting Luke Clinic so much, I continued this project as part of my Capstone for Impact (CFI) in the Branches. I have been able to bring my creative experiences from every step of my education into this project.

Some pages we designed for the Baby Book.

As a high school newspaper editor, I spent a lot of time working with Adobe InDesign and was thrilled to transfer the book into InDesign to create a visually appealing and beautiful workbook. As an engineering major in college, I took many classes with our school’s design department and utilized many of these design skills in development of this book. As a medical student applying into pediatrics, I have learned so much about child growth and development, and the common challenges new parents at the clinic face, incorporating this knowledge into the book using accessible and plain language. I’m thankful that CFI supports the opportunity to take creative risks. My process of developing the book included printing out Meghan’s first prototype, seeking user feedback by talking with new parents waiting in the Luke Clinic lobby, and meeting with nurses, doulas and physician staff at the clinic to identify needs. I then got the chance to create and illustrate the health education materials and re-organize the book for a second prototype.

Each member of the health care team offered important thoughts on how to make this book relevant and useful. New parents were excited to have space for baby pictures, to write down their questions and keep track of important phone numbers. They wanted information on how to feed their baby in their early days and when to call the doctor. Clinic staff and providers shared thoughts on how to present health education materials in a way that was accessible but not scary— for example, while the average child will pull up to stand by age one, it is not unusual for a one-year-old to still be learning this skill. I hope to translate this book into Spanish and Arabic for the clinic’s families, print it to be both durable and enjoyable to use, and distribute it to new families at the clinic. I would like to evaluate how families use the book in the future and would also very much love to share the digital file with anyone else who may be interested in this resource!

Our Virtual Interview Tips and Tricks for Medical School, Residency and Beyond

If you had asked us four years ago when we were in the early years of medical school at the University of Michigan, we both would have confidently said that we expected to be traveling across the country for our 4th year residency interviews.

Hang on, virtual interviews? What?????

We were definitely nervous about the abrupt change in plans, but together we spent hours perfecting our virtual interview strategies and have come up with a list of our favorite tips and tricks! Whether or not medical school and residency interviews will be virtual again remains to be seen, but personally, we can see the benefits. After all, a pair of comfy yoga pants and warm slippers is always going to be more comfortable than high heels and slacks, am I right?

Preparing for Your Interview

  • Practice, practice, practice. Make a list of 30-40 possible interview questions — there are many of these lists online. Schedule a zoom appointment with a family member or friend to go through your questions, and ask for feedback about each answer! Approach these practice sessions as if they are the real deal.
  • Use the STARR method! (If you don’t know what this is, look it up and read about it!) This method is literally so helpful, and not just for situation questions. Use the STARR method to explain why you chose your specialty or why you choose to go to medical school or even just to tell a story about yourself.
  • Choose a nice potted plant, or a small painting or poster to put in your background. Otherwise, keep it simple. Boring does not equal bad when it comes to interview backgrounds. If this means you move your furniture around a bit, that’s ok!
  • Lighting is everything! Well, not everything, but it can make a big difference. Consider where the sun will be with respect to your windows, and whether you’ll need to draw the shades. Move your amazing floor lamp from the living room to your interview room. If you want the flawless complexion of an Instagram star, consider investing in a ring light (or two if you want to go overboard like Ione haha).
  • It sounds like minutiae, but spend a little bit of time thinking about whether you are going to wear glasses or contacts for your interviews (if you use these at all.) Try to position your lights so they don’t reflect off your glasses.
  • Technology. Try wearing headphones with a built-in microphone if you are worried about a noisy environment or have a softer voice. If accessible, an ethernet cable can reduce any wifi-related stressors.
  • Write down helpful notes or anecdotes that connect to important themes for you. Since interviewers can’t see your workspace, it’s very easy to keep your notes next to your computer, or even on your screen. When asked a tricky question, you can just glance at your notes to jog your memory before answering.
  • Think about whether you have completed any visual projects that you would like to showcase during your interview. The nice thing about interviewing from home is that you can show off your work in a way you couldn’t at an in-person interview. So that cookbook you authored? Keep a copy on your desk. That workbook or patient educational material you created? Print it out and have it handy. A painting or piece of artwork you made? Why not??
  • Don’t forget to think through your outfit. We recommend choosing a great pair of black yoga pants to go with a dark blazer. On camera, the black yoga pants look just like professional slacks. (To all the guys out there, don’t worry, there are yoga pants for you too if you want em!)

The Night Before the Interview

  • You may find yourself making a spontaneous decision to go to Ulta and buy the cheapest curling iron they have. If it makes you feel like your best self, it’s totally worth it.
  • Double check the start time and time zone of your interview, just to be sure.
  • Give yourself enough time to sleep well.

Interview Day

  • Time for your pre-interview PUMP UP Playlist! We recommend SUPERBLOOM, by the MisterWives.
  • Get your pets, roommates, or family members situated for the interview. If you live with forgetful roommates or family members, just remind them when you’ll be interviewing and ask them not to knock on your door or do something REALLY loud during your interview. But if it does happen, remember that it happens to all of us from time to time, your interviewer included.
  • Don’t be afraid to take pauses during the interview to think through your answers. It’s better to take a second or two to collect your thoughts before answering an unexpected question than to give a rambling answer that you’re figuring out as you’re saying it.
  • YES, PLEASE DRINK WATER if you’re thirsty. Just leave a glass on your desk. No one wants you to feel dry during your interview!
  • Put some snacks within reach in case you get hungry during those 5-10 minute breaks.
  • Stretch, do some jumping jacks or yoga, or play with your pets during breaks. It can be helpful to step away from the screen and rest your eyes.
  • Turn down your screen brightness if you notice your eyes are getting tired during the interview.
  • Have fun! You will be meeting amazing physicians from all over the country, and many of them will be doing exactly the kind of work you want to do. Let yourself be inspired by them. Talk about networking!
  • Life happens! If you encounter technical difficulties, take a breath and reach out to the program coordinator. Everyone is very understanding, and most programs have contingency plans in place.
  • If they say they don’t need thank-you notes, believe them. Use that time to sleep, go outside, or spend time with people important to you. If they don’t say NOT to send thank-you notes…you probably should send those. If you can, use a template to draft your thank you notes right after your interview when you can still remember the details about who you interviewed with and what you talked about together.

Throughout the Season

  • Know who’s on your team and celebrate every win, even the small ones!
  • For Michigan students, feel comfortable reaching out to our AMAZING UMich alumni base for the inside scoop on your favorite residency programs. They will give you the low-down, and may even be able to offer comparisons of your favorite programs, from their experiences as residents, fellows, or through their own networks. If you find yourself entertaining an alum on their road trip with your numerous questions, remind yourself that you might be more interesting than the 15th episode of their podcast.
  • Remember, residency is important, but it’s also your first job in what, if you’re lucky, will be a decades-long career. You will be an incredible physician, and you will always be enough. (And the same is true if you’re applying to medical school!)

Doctors of Tomorrow: Striving for a More Equitable Future in Health Care

Josh Goyert and Hana Murphy are on the leadership team for Doctors of Tomorrow, a partnership between Cass Technical High School and the University of Michigan Medical School focused on exposing underrepresented minority students in Detroit to careers in medicine and providing mentorship to help them pursue this path. 

When applying to medical school in the summer of 2019, we didn’t really know what to expect from our M1 year, but we certainly did not anticipate what this past year has held. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered nearly every facet of our daily lives. The traditions of how we work, learn, and live have all been upended by this virus. Yet, while COVID-19 has been challenging for all of us, it has certainly not been equally difficult for each of us. This virus has disproportionately impacted minority populations, with Black and Hispanic communities being drastically overrepresented in both hospitalizations and deaths. COVID-19 has compounded America’s existing health disparities and serves as another powerful reminder of how much more work there is to be done in addressing them.

Prior to medical school, we both really enjoyed our work in youth mentorship and wanted to stay involved through programs that advanced equal opportunity in medicine. We know we wouldn’t be at UMMS without the caring and selfless mentors in our lives and hoped to find a way to pay it forward and support a more diverse generation of physicians. Our shared passion for mentorship and our goal to help patch medicine’s leaky pipeline led us to Doctors of Tomorrow (DoT).

DoT is a partnership between Cass Technical High School and the University of Michigan Medical School designed to increase representation in medicine by providing students from underrepresented communities mentorship and exposure to the field. DoT is split into three main cohorts: DoT Foundations (9th & 10th grade), DoT Rising (11th & 12th grade), and DoT Succeed (program alumni who matriculate at the University of Michigan for undergrad). Each cohort meets virtually twice a month where they might learn from a cardiologist teaching about heart disease, a surgeon hosting an interactive suture session, or medical students demystifying the path to medical school. Students also meet regularly with their medical student mentors and work in groups on longitudinal capstone projects to solve community health issues. The goal of these sessions is to expose students to different fields in medicine so that they can better visualize a career in health care.

 

Hana: As Director of DoT Rising, I organize educational sessions with Michigan Medicine physicians, create programming to outline career paths in health care, and provide guidance and facilitate essay support throughout the college application process. Our most recent session, “Diversity in Medicine: Representation Matters” included physicians Dr. Donnele Daley and Dr. Randy Vince, who shared with DoT students their career paths, life obstacles, and experiences as a BIPOC individual in the medical field. Their guidance and genuine life perspective I could tell struck a chord with students, helping them to see what the road to medicine might look like. Dr. Vince’s powerful reminder that “it’s extremely hard to become what you can never see,”  serves as a testament to the importance of programs like Doctors of Tomorrow. How can we hope to diversify, and thus improve, health care if the talent we need most is never exposed?

DoT Rising Diversity in Medicine Panel, January 2021

Josh: Alongside Hana, I work as the Director of Capstone. Each month, we meet to work on students’ community health projects and continue to build on their public speaking and research abilities. Despite hours of “Zoom school,” DoT students show up eager and driven to complete capstone projects that address issues important to them. Our initial brainstorming sessions evolved into student-led discussions that spanned racial disparities in preterm labor to environmental racism and its impact on health outcomes. Their conversations were impassioned and persuasive. It was clear that their research projects had the potential to result in real change. To support their efforts, we sought out individuals well-positioned to help implement their ideas. With the help of Wayne County Commissioner Joseph Palamara, we were introduced to Michigan State Representative Clemente who has agreed to review and respond to DoT student proposals. Providing channels for civic engagement and community service supports DoT’s mission to prepare students to become future leaders in health care.

 Dr. Finks demonstrating surgical techniques in the UMMS Clinical Simulation Center, December 2019

Josh & Hana: The failure of our health care system to produce physicians that represent their patients is not simply a moral failure, but it propagates the very disparities it seeks to address. While only 14% of the population, Black Americans have accounted for up to 48% of COVID-related deaths in Michigan. Although the health care industry is not solely responsible for this discrepancy, the tragic death of Dr. Susan Moore, a UMMS alumnus, demonstrates acutely how the medical field continues to fail Black patients. Doctors of Tomorrow aims to increase diversity by promoting educational opportunities in communities that have traditionally been excluded from medicine. A more diverse medical workforce will ensure that patients are able to see providers who more thoroughly understand their perspectives, which can result in increased patient satisfaction and more positive health outcomes. While increasing representation in medicine is necessary, it will not be sufficient to eradicate the health disparities that have long plagued the United States. Significant institutional change is required to effectively eliminate the health disparities that exist today.

Medical students leading interactive physiology lessons on Clinical Skills Day, February 2020

The incorporation of anti-racism components into medical school curriculums is a start to addressing these disparities, but this education without action leads to little progress. Advocacy is not a sideline sport, and all of us have a role to play. Medical students in particular are in a unique position to advocate for a more equitable future. For us, Doctors of Tomorrow was a means to translate words into action. We encourage current and future medical students to find meaningful opportunities that allow them to contribute to a more equitable future in medicine.

The Disability Health Elective: Equipping Med Students for Patient-Centered Care

There are some people you meet that end up changing your life forever. For me it was 12 young adults who signed up to learn how to play soccer. As I walked into our first practice in 2015, I felt like I was walking on eggshells. I had coached soccer before, but this time I had no idea where to start or how I would do it – I was out of my comfort zone.

Sitting on the sideline at practice with my favorite Special Olympics College team

My undergraduate college was starting a Special Olympics College program, and I had signed up to help. There were 12 athletes, with various intellectual and developmental disabilities, excited to learn the game I loved. I didn’t have experience working with individuals with disabilities, and I was nervous to say the least. But as practice started, I quickly realized that disability in no way means inability.

Before going further, it’s important to recognize there are many different ways we can think about and define disability. A disability can be something someone is born with, that progresses gradually over time, or that develops abruptly. It can be genetic or acquired. They can have temporary, waxing-and-waning, or lifelong courses. And disabilities can be cognitive or developmental, like the ones I learned about through Special Olympics College, or they can be physical or sensory.

Over the next two and a half years as I continued to work with the Special Olympics College program, I realized that, because of those 12 athletes, advocating for individuals with disabilities was going to play a big part of the rest of my life. The only problem was that I was moving on to medical school, and I wasn’t sure how I could fit disability into my work. The first and second years of medical school are pretty busy, and I didn’t have a ton of time to participate in projects or research about the topic. But I did start to think of some ideas, and I knew I wanted to find a way for medical students to interact with individuals with disabilities in the community and learn more about disabilities as whole.

One way I was able to keep up my involvement with disability advocacy was through participating in the Polar Plunge, an event where people jump into freezing cold water in the middle of winter to raise awareness for Special Olympics Michigan. During my M2 year at Michigan I advertised the event and formed a team of eight UMMS students to participate in the Polar Plunge at The Big House with me. Shortly afterwards, I was contacted about the Disability Health Elective.

The Disability Health Elective was started as a Capstone for Impact project by a UMMS Class of 2020 graduate. They had seen my recent involvement with the Polar Plunge and asked me to take over as the student lead in the Spring of 2020. It was a perfect fit for me and my goals of promoting medical student involvement with the disability community. The first elective was set to launch in September 2020 so I immediately got to work identifying clinical preceptors and community organizations we could work with.

Michigan medical students Pre-Polar Plunge at The Big House

The coronavirus pandemic made much of the planning a bit more difficult, but I was lucky enough to have an amazing team and dedicated preceptors willing to find a way to make it work. With the support of Dr. Michael McKee, Dr. Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, and Dawn Michael from MDisability we were able to offer the elective for one student this past fall. The Disability Health Elective will be offered again this upcoming April, and we look forward to offering it for future years as well.

The goal of the course is to equip students to be able to provide patient-centered care for patients who have disabilities. By educating and exposing students to different areas of disability health, we hope to improve the quality of care and reduce disparities in health outcomes for people with disabilities.

This is a two-week elective offered to medical students in their Branch years. Students learn about disability health through online and didactic sessions, clinical rotations, and experiences in the community. The online curriculum is provided through a series of video lectures from Michigan Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (MI-LEND) and all students who complete the elective will receive an MI-LEND Intermediate Trainee certificate. Students are given the opportunity to customize the didactic, clinical, and community experiences to help meet their individual career goals.

Michigan medical students Post-Polar Plunge at The Big House

Speakers for our didactic sessions have ranged from community partners to clinical experts in the field on topics including disability awareness and sensitivity, growing up with a pediatric onset disability, and communicating with deaf and hard of hearing patients. Students also get to rotate through clinics with interdisciplinary teams in areas such as physical medicine and rehabilitation, otolaryngology, ophthalmology, family medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, and even obstetrics and gynecology.

One of the most unique parts of the elective is that students get the opportunity to work with some of our community partners outside of health care. These include attending practices with the U-M chapter of Special Olympics College and interviewing members of the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living who are transitioning from assisted to independent living. And when the pandemic winds down we are looking to add more opportunities with adaptive sports and the local school districts. These community experiences allow medical students to see what life is like outside of the clinic walls for patients with disabilities. It provides the opportunity to gain a deeper connection and understanding so that they can be better equipped to provide the best care to their future patients.

I am excited to see the expanding opportunities we will be able to provide with our elective in April, and the opportunities that will be available in the future. It has been humbling to work on this elective and spread awareness about disability health. But it has also been so rewarding to see my classmates eager to learn how they can become even more compassionate, patient-centered providers than they already are.