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Students gain first-hand knowledge of primary care medicine

by Jane Shaskan - October 30, 2006

For the past 14 years, first- and second-year UConn medical students have participated in community service activities during National Primary Care Week.

This year, for the first time, pharmacy and nursing students from Storrs and physician assistant students from Quinnipiac College in Hamden joined them.

The event offers the groups the opportunity to work with patients in the community and gain appreciation of primary care medicine.

During the week, Oct. 15 through Oct. 21, the students also took part in a variety of seminars and activities designed to introduce them to the role of medicine in the community and increase their awareness of the importance of primary care and community service.

The theme of National Primary Care Week was "Addressing Health Disparities: Healing the Nation."

"This is an important learning experience for the students," says Dr. Bruce Gould, associate dean for primary care at the UConn School of Medicine, who was student advisor for the event.

"They heard from experts who champion universal health care and offer aid to Connecticut's poorest citizens, and they had the opportunity to work directly with the underserved."

Nine health fairs were held at a number of locations in Greater Hartford and New Haven counties, where students provided blood pressure screenings and glucose testing, and promoted the value of a healthy lifestyle.

Students accompanied social workers to homes of recent immigrants to address healthcare issues and available resources, and they met with residents at Hartford's Avery Heights, a retirement and nursing facility.

"The residents at Avery Heights were truly touched by the students' sincerity, compassion, and health care knowledge," says Petra Clark-Dufner, urban service track coordinator at the School of Medicine.

Exposing students to the value of primary care is one of the goals of Primary Care Week.

"Raising awareness about the field of primary care is very important," says Frank Santoro, medical student event coordinator and site leader at Avery Heights.

Sara Tabtabai, a student at the UConn School of Medicine, takes a patient's blood pressure at the Old State House during Primary Care Week.
Sara Tabtabai, a student at the UConn School of Medicine, takes a patient’s blood pressure at the Old State House during Primary Care Week.
Photo by Janine Gelineau

"As the frontline of health care, primary care physicians not only treat disease, but help prevent it. This week stresses the importance of increasing access to health care for all socio-economic groups."

Medical student Kerrian Hudson accompanied a case worker from Catholic Charities Migration and Refugees Service of Hartford to the home of a family that recently arrived here from Somalia.

"It was one of the best and most educational experiences of my life," Hudson says.

"I learned a lot about myself and also about another culture."

William Carter, medical student site leader at Temple Sion Pentacostal Church in Hartford, and his team helped a young mother recognize that personal grief could be the source of her medical problem.

"Barriers, such as language and immigration status, and her earlier attempt to get help at a local hospital, left her frustrated and confused and lessened the likelihood of her seeking further help," says Carter.

"If no one reaches out, people can be lost to the system."

Adds Santoro, "By ensuring good health, medicine can be used as a means to heal a community. I'm proud to be a student at a school that not only teaches the science of medicine, but encourages us to be connected to the community which we service."

National Primary Care Week is sponsored by the Connecticut Area Health Education Center Program, the UConn School of Medicine, and the American Association of Medical Students.

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