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HMS To Launch Office Supporting ‘Community-Centered’ Student Outreach

Harvard Medical School will launch an office for community-centered medical education in fall 2021.
Harvard Medical School will launch an office for community-centered medical education in fall 2021. By Megan M. Ross
By Ariel H. Kim and Anjeli R. Macaranas, Crimson Staff Writers

To support Harvard Medical School students’ efforts to provide medical resources and knowledge to the greater public, Harvard Medical School will launch an office for “community-centered medical education” in fall 2021.

Spurred by longstanding calls among students for a closer relationship between the Medical School and the Greater Boston area, the office will aim to provide centralized resources and mentorship to medical students interested in pursuing public service.

“Our students have been advocating for this since I was a student,” said Nancy E. Oriol, the HMS dean for Community Engagement in Medical Education, who also graduated from HMS in 1979 and served as the HMS Dean for Students from 1997 to 2016.

Despite many efforts to engage with the Greater Boston area, Oriol said students and faculty have “been doing it on their own in a silo.”

“I remember being completely scattered in terms of groups all kind of working on the same thing but not really talking with each other,” HMS Student Council President Tyler S. LeComer ’19 said.

As a result, during his first few months of medical school this past fall, LeComer conducted outreach to student organizations and helped create a space for groups to collaborate and coordinate their efforts.

David B. Duong, the Medical School’s director of the Program in Global Primary Care and Social Change, also said student organizations have struggled to sustain their efforts due to a lack of “continuity” as students come and go.

“Especially as students are constantly in transition — cohorts of students are going into their clinical years, exiting their clinical years and exiting Harvard and graduating, new students are coming in,” he said.

“So how do we maintain that momentum despite all these transitions?” Duong asked.

Duong said he hopes this office will “provide an administrative infrastructure” to maintain the Medical School’s “longitudinal engagements with the community.”

To further develop the office’s goals and priorities, the Medical School will create a steering committee that will meet this spring composed of representatives of the greater public and the Medical School’s student body, faculty, and administration.

According to Duong, the office’s development was “rooted in co-creation.”

To solicit input from all affected constituencies — students, faculty, and individuals outside of Harvard — leaders of the initiative have held town halls and surveyed different groups about their needs.

First-year medical student William Z. Li, who will serve on the steering committee, said he sent a survey to current medical and dental students. According to Li, roughly 45 percent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “I had access to adequate tools and support to engage in meaningful career-related work during medical or dental school.”

Li also said a majority of survey respondents indicated interest in seeing more patient clinics and rotations incorporating local health organizations, a bulletin of community organizations accepting student volunteers, and more community-based research and service opportunities.

LeComer said the office will serve an important role through promoting interaction between the Medical School and individuals outside of the “ivory tower.”

He added that he hopes the office will ensure that future physicians not only see well-resourced patients at “high end hospitals,” but that they also engage with other members of the local population.

“It doesn't make sense to me to utilize the space without really caring about the community directly around you,” he said.

HMS Student Council Vice President of Advocacy Arushi Saini, who will also have a seat on the steering committee, said she believes the new office will promote the value of service projects within the Medical School.

“Community-centered work isn’t seen as validly as say clinical research is,” Saini said. “Having this office changed the conversation around what community advocacy and community-centric work is, and legitimatizes that this is equally valuable as other forms of research or passions that students have pursued.”

Oriol said she believes promoting local outreach in medical education encourages both personal and professional growth among students.

“We are training the next generation of physicians,” Oriol said. “When you work with people, when you learn from people, it expands your horizons in your understanding of human nature, of people’s lives, and it makes you a better physician.”

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Anjeli R. Macaranas can be reached at anjeli.macaranas@thecrimson.com.

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