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Dome - The SOURCE for a Life of Service

Dome September 2014

The SOURCE for a Life of Service

Date: September 4, 2014

The Student Outreach Resource Center allows medical students to take their learning out into the world.


Melissa Liu
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Through service projects, M.D./Ph.D. student Melissa Liu helps patients in East Baltimore gain access to care.

Although Cody Cichowitz has participated in a number of service projects over the years, he was unprepared for the rewards of working with an organization that helps refugee families navigate the U.S. health care maze. “These families remind me why I want to study medicine and have helped me understand how medical professionals can serve patients and those in need,” says the second-year medical student.

The Refugee Health Pathway is one of many community outreach projects available to medical students through the auspices of the Student Outreach Resource Center, or SOURCE. Directed by Mindi Levin, SOURCE is a joint community service and service learning center for the school of medicine, the school of nursing and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. It supports dozens of service-based student groups, such as the Refugee Health Pathway, and partners with more than 100 nonprofits in Baltimore. Every year, some 200 medical school students take part in community outreach projects through SOURCE, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2015.

The Refugee Health Pathway pairs a small team of medical students with a refugee family referred by the International Rescue Committee at the Baltimore Resettlement Center. The families come from all over the world—Sudan, Nepal, Iraq, Eritrea. “We do home visits and help them come up with questions to ask the doctor,” says Cichowitz. The students also connect the families to community resources, such as medical clinics and food banks, and advise them about the nutritional value of American food.

Working in teams and witnessing the social and cultural factors that affect the health of these families is preparing him to practice 21st century medicine, Cichowitz says. “If I get stumped, one of my teammates will know what to ask or what to say.”

Student Sight Savers is another organization that brings medical students into the community. Started in 2011 by former medical student Thomas Johnson, now an intern, it performs eye screenings at local community events under the supervision of faculty ophthalmologists. Those with potential medical issues, such as glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy, are referred to the Wilmer Eye Institute, where they receive free care if they do not have health insurance. As of March 2014, Johnson says, 335 people were screened, with 126 referred to Wilmer.

Fifth-year M.D./Ph.D. student Melissa Liu, who now directs Student Sight Savers, says she is drawn to ophthalmology because of the widespread need for access to vision care. Community service work also makes what she studies less abstract. “It allows medical students to reach out to East Baltimore residents in a very powerful way,” she says. “With Sight Savers, I’m putting my learning to work.”

—Christina DuVernay

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