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Urban Health Project connects UC medical students with Tristate residents

Summer internship program allows medical students to impact their community

CINCINNATI—Joey Zegar, a second-year University of Cincinnati (UC) medical student, got a brief but possibly life-altering glimpse of the struggles residents battling addiction undergo.

Zegar was a volunteer for the Urban Health Project, a nonprofit, medical student-run organization that places medical students into summer internships at non-profit health and social service organizations. He spent eight weeks with the Center for Addiction Treatment in Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood. His work focused on helping patients receive vaccinations for hepatitis A and B.

“For every patient that had labs drawn during admission, I determined if they needed a vaccination, provided education about the vaccination, and facilitated the patient receiving the first one or two doses of the vaccine while staying for inpatient treatment at the center,” explains Zegar. “I also spent time finding ways to add this process into the clinic’s normal workflow, and I created various educational materials.”

Zegar shadowed physicians and nurse practitioners that provided care in the Suboxone and primary care clinics at the center.

“While I do not know if I will go into addiction medicine, I think it was important to work with patients battling addiction and create my own views of what these patients are like,” says Zegar. “I feel that there is a lot of stigma surrounding addiction, but by working directly with these patients I was able to develop my own opinions and become more empathetic towards the struggles unique to this patient population.”

“Now, when I care for patients with a history of addiction in the future, I will be more comfortable talking about it and ensuring those needs are addressed in addition to any other medical concerns,” says Zegar.

Zegar was one of 20 students placed at 19 sites across the Tristate as part of the Urban Health Project. Some worked with homeless populations while others assisted immigrants, aided troubled youth, tackled infant mortality or worked with women who are survivors of sex trafficking, explains Isaiah Noel, a second-year medical student, who was co-director of the Urban Health Project this summer.

As part of the internship medical student interns joined TriHealth Family Medicine resident physicians and helped build accessibility ramps at two sites for residents in Northern Kentucky.

UC medical students build an accessibility ramp for a Northern Kentucky resident.

UC medical students help build an accessibility ramp for a Northern Kentucky resident.

“Our students benefited by getting the opportunity to have feet on the ground and involved in the experience working with vulnerable populations,” says Noel. “When we get to see and interact with the people we are learning about as medical students it makes the experience so much more real and meaningful.”

“I think the majority of our interns really enjoyed their experience and appreciated the fact the Urban Health Project offered them an opportunity to confront their own biases in interacting with residents in our region, says Noel. “The students also are aware of some of the resources our community offers to the future patients they will one day hope to assist.”

Namratha Kolur, second-year medical student, was also a co-director this year for the Urban Health Project.

Medical students shared their summer experiences and research they conducted during their internships at the 2019 Committed to Community event held in Care/Crawley Atrium July 30. Andrew Beck, MD, associate professor in the UC Division of Pediatrics and Cincinnati Children’s pediatrician, offered a keynote address to students and their supporters.

The Urban Health Project also offered awards during the event. Zegar won the Outstanding Service Project Award, while John Ernst, a second-year medical student, won the Committed to Community Award. Second-year medical students, Abby Dillaha and Juliana Lavey each won the Continued Excellence Award.

“I think this is a great experience for medical students looking for a summer experience that goes beyond a typical research program,” says Zegar. “The Urban Health Project has a large array of sites that allows a student to find something they are passionate about. Additionally, I enjoyed having the freedom to create my own project and doing something that will hopefully have a lasting impact on the Cincinnati community.”

 John Ernst, a second-year medical student who participated in the Urban Health Project, worked with medical Spanish students at UC to organize a health fair that provided screening and education services to seasonal workers at Belterra Park Gaming, a live horse race destination in Cincinnati along the Ohio River. The UC Department of Family and Community Medicine runs a free medical clinic at Belterra Park.

“I took away two big lessons from this summer: the importance of genuine love for your patients and the importance of teamwork,” says Ernst, who worked closely with a trio of faculty-physicians. “They were all excellent role models on how to deliver quality medical care with love, respect and flexibility.”

Ernst says he would recommend the Urban Health Project for incoming medical students.

“I was able to tangibly feel like I was doing good work in the community,” says Ernst. “I was able to work with amazing people, both physicians and patients, and I was able to learn to be a better care provider. I am very thankful for this experience, and for everyone who supported me to make this happen.”

Photos by Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative Services


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