Paying Back before Packing Up

March 19, 2011
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Less than 24 hours after discovering where they will be continuing their medical education in residency, a group of fourth-year medical students at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) was not quite ready to say goodbye to medical school until they had completed one final task: community service.

On March 18, dozens of medical school seniors — accompanied by Scott Schroth, M.D., M.P.H., senior associate dean for academic affairs; Yolanda Haywood, M.D., associate dean for student and curricular affairs; and two GW Medical Center staff members — participated in the first annual “Pay it Back Friday.”

The team traveled to Northeast D.C. to serve the residents of Deanwood Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, a 296- bed facility provides comprehensive medical care for people in need of a variety of services, including physical and occupational therapy, post-surgical care, and stroke recovery programs.

“We all started medical school with a day of service and it was great to end our medical school career with another community service day,” said Oluwakemi Ajide, one of the students who helped organize the event through her membership in the GW Chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS), a group dedicated to emphasizing the importance of compassion, empathy, and respect in the practice of medicine.

“The goal of our chapter is to foster compassion and dedication to service within our classmates, and more importantly, to give back to our community,” explained Ajide, who will be filling a Family Medicine residency at Chestnut Hill Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Each year, we must complete a community service project, so this year, we decided to make a bigger impact and start a new tradition at GW that brings us back to the heart of service before we move forward in our careers.”

Over several hours at Deanwood, the students changed and bathed the residents, led games like bingo, and served lunch in the cafeteria. Some students simply enjoyed the company of the residents, many of whom do not have regular visitors. “It's amazing and humbling that a few hours spent reading, serving food, or just talking can mean so much to an entire community of people,” said Justin Azar, who will be a Pediatrics resident at Children’s National Medical Center in D.C.

“The experience reminded us that some of the most appreciated moments that we can give to others isn't necessarily medical care,” added Garth Terry, a student who was matched to a five-year Psychiatry research residency at the University of California, Los Angeles Semel Institute for Neuroscience.

The members of GHHS hope that “Pay it Back Friday” will become an annual event, and that, each year, more and more fourth-year students will opt to participate. With more volunteers, the event could more closely mimic Community Service Day, during which students don’t just attend one site — but rather contribute to projects city-wide.

“Our experience at Deanwood Rehabilitation and Wellness Center was a very small way to express our deep gratitude for the education we have received at GW,” said Sister Mary Gretchen, RSM, a soon-to-be Internal Medicine resident at the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine. “I hope that this tradition will take hold at GW because it is such a small but valuable way to ‘pay it back’ for all we have been given.”

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