“If we don’t do it, who’s going to?”
In spring 2018, a new Social Mission Committee was organized, and third-year Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) students Mollie Limb and Will Furuyama were selected as co-presidents.
Determined to balance the academic rigor of medical school with benevolent ventures, they’re now part of an organized effort to ensure opportunities to address health inequities are easily available to all students.
With the guidance of faculty adviser Bonnie Miller, MD, MMHC, vice president for Educational Affairs at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Consuelo Wilkins, MD, VUSM associate dean for Health Equity, an organizational structure was established, and the committee has succeeded in connecting a network of medical students, faculty and community social service organizations.
“We did a lot of internal reflection about what is a medical student’s and a physician’s responsibility related to health equity,” said Furuyama. “We concluded that we are stewards of a vital resource — the delivery of health care — and as people who have a lot of control and power in society, we have a responsibility to address any inequality and inequity that exists. If we don’t do it, who’s going to?”
“I feel like there’s been a change in our generation, within this country and in this world, and people have a greater sense of social responsibility,” Limb added. “We really want to equip future physicians to feel like they have a baseline knowledge of health disparities in a way that lowers the activation energy for them to engage in affecting and hopefully reducing those disparities, but also to instill in them the idea that this is something that is an important part of their job.”
The Social Mission Committee and its subcommittees — education, mentorship, recruitment, research, service, and monitoring and evaluation — meet monthly, and the members have already made notable progress including establishing the Health Equity Certificate program. Forty-five students have already signed up to complete the certificate’s requirements which includes an immersion experience in health equity related to clinical care, research, public health or community health for at least two months.
The Social Mission Committee has also set up a formal mentorship program, and more than 30 faculty members as well as residents across all specialties have volunteered to advise medical students in areas of health equity and social mission work.
The service subcommittee has identified four areas/populations to address: homelessness; immigrants and refugees; formerly incarcerated men; and under-resourced youth. Student leaders are meeting with community organizations now so they can plan a best course of action to provide services and to build long-standing relationships.
Committee members have already partnered with Open Table Nashville in canvassing efforts to help homeless individuals access overnight shelters during life-threatening cold weather; teamed up with Nashville Neighbors to assist a refugee family as it becomes re-established in its new city; and knit cozy winter hats and scarves to give to individuals in need.
“I’m so proud of the Social Mission Committee’s advocacy and what they’ve already been able to achieve,” Miller said.