Community Immersion Helps Students Understand Patients’ Lives

Published June 5, 2017

This year’s Buffalo Community Immersion program exposed 11 first-year University at Buffalo medical students to the social and cultural factors that affect Buffalo’s citizens — issues they will encounter with patients during clinical training.

The program is sponsored by the Jacobs Center for Medical Humanities, which promotes the idea that medicine is an art as well as a science. The center champions the notion that a truly comprehensive medical education requires students to be aware of the social and ethical aspects of health care in addition to the medical and scientific components.

The center’s director, Linda F. Pessar, MD, professor emerita of psychiatry, says the community immersion program is one way of teaching students that developing trust with their patients “requires some understanding of the social, economic, psychological and cultural issues” faced by patients.

Visiting Marginalized Populations, Neighborhoods, More

The program is designed to help students gain a better understanding of the community in which they are learning about medicine.

By engaging with community members, students were able to experience a real-world context to their studies. 

The weeklong program — held during the students’ spring break — included walking tours of the Martin Luther King Jr. Park neighborhood, a meeting at Hopewell Baptist Church, a trip to the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood, visits to a mosque and a meeting with Yemeni women.

At the students’ requests, it also included meetings with marginalized populations, including developmentally disabled people, people with chronic mental illness and those who are involved in methadone maintenance programs — as well as the agencies that serve them.

Lessons to be Especially Useful After Downtown Move

Pessar said the medical school’s impending move downtown gives immediacy to the lessons students learned in the program.

“All of the students currently attending the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will be making the move downtown when our school moves into the new building on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus,” she said. 

“Our community immersion program will help familiarize some of them with the communities with which they’ll be interacting on a daily basis.”

2017 Marks Program’s 2nd Year

Last year, 11 students participated in the inaugural program. The idea for the pilot program came from students involved with the Jacobs Center for Medical Humanities who were interested in becoming more attuned to the concerns of community members.

Pessar said support for the program has been extraordinarily positive, from the administration of the medical school itself to Buffalo’s community organizations.

“Everyone from our dean and his colleagues to the community organizations I contacted has been immediately supportive,” she said.