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A Day of Service

It would be easy to spend Match Day Eve — the day before fourth year medical students learn where they will be completing their residency — pacing, nail-biting, playing “what-if,” and indulging other nervous compulsions.

But instead of succumbing to the jitters, a group of fourth year medical students at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) spent the day directing their energy elsewhere: toward the community.

During the Gold Humanism Honor Society’s (GHHS) Annual Day of Service, March 15, over 60 students helped to renovate what might become a safe house for Washington, D.C., residents in need.

The students were accompanied by Yolanda Haywood, M.D., assistant dean for Student and Curricular Affairs at SMHS and faculty advisor to GHHS, and Scott Schroth, M.D., M.P.H., senior associate dean of Academic Affairs at SMHS.

“Each year, GHHS members vote on how they’d like to spend their day of service,” explained Rahul Vanjani, a GHHS member. “This year, we chose something that we believed characterized our class and the type of project we wanted to pursue: a focus on the underserved and the integration of GW into the D.C. community.” 

Though organized by GHHS — an honor society that recognizes and validates the importance of empathy, altruism, and professionalism in the establishment of healing relationships between physicians and patients — the event was open to all fourth year medical students.

This year, GHHS partnered with Temporary Emergency Residential Resource Institute for Families in Crisis (TERRIFIC Inc.), a non-profit housing and human service organization that identifies and develops resources to help meet the needs of families in crisis. GW volunteers spent the day painting the interior of a three-story house as a part of a renovation project.

“The group’s commitment to the work was demonstrated in its focus and the results,” said Joanie Brumbaugh, a GHHS member who helped to organize the Day of Service.  “But amidst the hard work, we had a lot of fun and enjoyed each other’s company.”  

Brumbaugh said that a highlight of the day was when the founder of TERRIFIC, Inc. visited the GW team on site. “When she saw our group and our enthusiasm, she was moved to tears and thanked us for providing a service that her organization couldn’t afford,” said Brumbaugh. “She was so excited about the potential of that house to be a place of refuge and hope.”

But the students felt that they gained more than they gave. Not only did the day offer a positive alternative to ruminating about their futures, but it also put into perspective what those futures should hold.

“For the past four years, the rigor of the medical school curriculum made us all have a primary focus on ourselves,” said Raphael Karkowski, a GHHS member who participated in the Day of Service.  “Now, as we're about to graduate, it's good to have a reminder of where our focus should be — on using the skills we have to help others.”