Sometimes, said Vinny Rao, it can feel like medical students are in a bubble. That is how the second-year MD student at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) explained the reasoning behind Community Service Day.
“There are so many ways to get involved in the community, whether it’s with youth services or volunteering with the rescue shelter,” said Rao, one of the student organizer’s for this year’s event, which took place over two days, Aug. 14 and 17. “We want to encourage GW med students to get involved in the greater D.C. area and expand their horizons. After all, a large part of being a physician means staying active and engaged in supporting the community around you.”
This year, more than 300 first- and second-year MD students spent a few hours outside of their bubble for some arts and crafts to benefit the D.C. community.
The annual SMHS Community Service Day featured several activities which students could volunteer. First-year MD student Kime McClintock volunteered to make costumes for children who participate in the Only Make Believe program.
Only Make Believe travels to children’s hospitals across the country and invites the patients to participate in interactive performances, providing the costumes, props, and a few professional actors. SMHS students spent their day crafting hats and bling necklaces.
“Being in medical school, you kind of keep your head down,” explained McClintock. “It’s nice to see the other end of what we are working toward. Someday our future patients will benefit from this [service.]”
Other student volunteers got creative to make monster hand puppets for the National Institutes of Health Children’s Inn, where children stay during their participation in clinical trials. They also had the opportunity to travel to the Children’s Inn and tour the facility.
“Working like this for children who have health issues kind of humanizes what we do,” said Vanessa Niba, a second-year MD student at SMHS. “It gives meaning to what we have been doing for six months or however long you’ve been here.”
Some students traveled to the Humane Rescue Alliance to make toys for the dogs and cats at the shelter, and also help create sponsorship ads. Of course, students also had the chance to play with their new furry friends.
The second half of Community Service Day featured a couple of the activities from the first day with the addition of a workshop with Best Buddies International, an organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Students spent the afternoon with children from Best Buddies, learning about the importance of advocating for people with disabilities and writing speeches they then presented to the group.
“During the first two years of medical school, students spend most of their time in libraries and staring at books,” explained Laura Biver, second-year MD student at SMHS and organizer for the Best Buddies activity. “Community Service Day provides an outlet for students to venture around D.C. to see and learn about the different communities that they will be working with during their rotations and their careers.”
Regardless of which activity students participated in, they got out of the classroom and out of their bubbles to get to know their community and those they will soon serve.