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A Fair to Remember
Preparing for a career in medicine takes more than just hitting the books.


At the 2002 health fair in Baltimore's Waverly neighborhood, Kevin Neal (now a junior at Dunbar High School) worked with med student Mark Dalton, then in his first year, on the substance abuse booth. The two met last fall, when Dalton volunteered to be a mentor at the nearby school. Neal, who is enrolled in honors classes and hopes to become a neonatologist, says his new friend has encouraged him to keep on studying. "To have a career in medicine," says Dalton, "you have to plan ahead and be motivated for years. Mentoring is one of the best things medical students can do for the community."

It's not often that students at the School of Medicine get to advance Hopkins' mission. For the most part, they're still learning the basics of research, they live almost exclusively on the receiving end of teaching, and they need that M.D. degree before they can do patient care. Nevertheless, one student-run activity has been giving these doctors-to-be a taste of the triple-threat skills they'll soon be putting into practice.

For the last seven years, Hopkins medical students and their counterparts at the University of Maryland have joined forces to plan, organize and staff the Community Care Initiative Health Fair. Held annually in April at the intersection of Greenmount Avenue and 32nd Street, the fair brings much-needed health information to one of Baltimore's less affluent neighborhoods. It also brings the 100 or so students who take part in it the kinds of experience classrooms can't.

Their mission is to offer unbiased information in lay terms and help people find affordable health care. On the day of the fair, they run more than 30 booths, each devoted to a topic such as heart disease, cancer, childhood immunizations or nutrition. At their 2002 event, they inaugurated a health insurance triage area where uninsured fair goers could meet with representatives from such national health insurance programs as Medicaid, Medicare and the Department of Veterans Affairs. And two years ago, they set up a mentoring project that pairs medical students with health science-minded students at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, who also help with booths at the fair.

Together, these projects cast the students in the roles of researchers, teachers and-though not direct care givers-knowledgeable guides.

Taking on responsibility for a booth requires students to investigate a disease or medical issue they may (or depending on their year, may not) have touched on in school. Furthermore, to make their booth effective, they have to figure out what's relevant to their audience and then translate it from medicalese. Though each booth is well-stocked with pamphlets and other hand- outs, all the students, including those from Dunbar, have to be able to answer a gamut of questions from the more than 500 people who attend.

Fourth-year med student Frank Lin has been volunteering for the fair since he arrived at Hopkins, and in 2002 chaired the organizing committee. "I ran the geriatrics booth my first year," he says, "and some of the people who came up talked about having a hard time finding a place to get enough exercise. They didn't know about the walking programs at malls. Also, a lot of older people drink Ensure, which is very expensive. I showed them that a cheaper instant breakfast drink offers the same nutrition. It took me all of 30 seconds to make a difference in someone's life."

Heather Larkin, the third-year Hopkins student who's chairing the 2003 fair, agrees that one of the fair's most valuable lessons is the glimpse it offers into the non-medical factors that influence health care decisions. "You hear people's personal stories and you realize how many compromises they have to make-food vs. medication, or exercise vs. working two jobs. They have a lot of issues to reconcile to make healthy choices. Understanding this, I think, will help make us better doctors."

-MAA


The Community Care Initiative Health Fair in Baltimore City's Waverly neighborhood is funded by the American College of Physicians and is run in partnership with the People's Community Health Center. Volunteers and donations for the 2003 fair are welcome. For more information, e-mail hlarkin@jhmi.edu.

 

 

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