One of the electives at school is through the Mini-Med program and is called PUMA - I don't remember what the acronym stands for, but every Wednesday groups of medical students go either to the Kintock Group, a correctional facility, or Renaissance House, a place for women and mothers struggling with substance abuse. Each week we teach them about a different health topic - Diabetes, heart health, STDs, domestic violence, how to get access to health care, and others.
We were provided with powerpoints on each topic, but there were still some facts we were unsure of while teaching. The women were quick to point out when we made mistakes, and there was one woman with a nursing background who ended up explaining some of the topics that she knew more about than we did. One week, a woman raised her hand as if to ask a question, and when she was called on she said, "I don't think you should say um so much."
We wore our white coats every week, but made sure to explain that we were still just students. That didn't stop them from asking us any type of question about their health: "I'm experiencing this, what do I have?" We usually just told them to see their doctor, because no one wants to give wrong advice, and what do we know? It was frustrating sometimes to feel like we knew less than some of the people we were supposed to be teaching, but at the same time I felt like they appreciated us being there each week anyway. It took a couple weeks for everyone to get totally comfortable, but we really formed a strong bond with our group of women.
This past Wednesday was the last session, and I was surprised by how sad I was to leave. We asked if the home did anything to celebrate Thanksgiving, and one of the women was very quick to admit how depressing the holiday season was going to be this year. A few people are allowed to have family visit for Thanksgiving dinner, and another woman quietly said how she didn't have any family anyway, and immediately all of the other women jumped in to say, "I'll be your family." It was so heart-warming, but at the same time, made me very sad.
Participating in this elective I think was one of the best things I could have done this year. We become so lost in the bubble of studying that it's easy to forget what's happening in the outside world. One of the benefits to studying medicine in Newark is that there are so many people who need our help, and there is so much opportunity to make a difference. Part of me wants to say, "What difference can I make before I know anything? Once I'm a doctor I can help people." But if I wait until I feel like I know "enough," that might be never.
So while I continue to spend most of my waking moments studying, PUMA was an amazing opportunity to break through the bubble, and really form a strong connection with people in the community, and hopefully make some small difference to some people. So this Thanksgiving I was not only thankful to be able to spend time with my family, which I really take for granted as so many people don't have family or cannot be with them for whatever reason, but I am also thankful to be in training for a career where I can be helping people right from the get-go.
Newark Renaissance House
Mini-Med at NJMS