Why a Med School values Volunteerism

Volunteer Guest Submission

By Brianne Sanchez, Des Moines University Community Relations Manager

 

At Des Moines University, a graduate health sciences and medical school, we want our students to learn more than how to diagnose. We want to educate compassionate, culturally-competent health professionals who are connected to the community. We want our students to be able to talk about health and wellness in ways everyone – small children, people with disabilities, refugees and immigrants, neighbors, elderly, etc. – can understand.

But we know that our students don’t necessarily always get to practice those skills or interact with a wide patient base through their coursework. So, before they begin their clinical rotations, we encourage our students to volunteer.

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Des Moines University hosts large-scale volunteer opportunities like our Senior Health Fair, which offers free screenings to hundreds of geriatric patients the first Saturday in November, and our Girls in Science event which brings 200+ elementary and middle school students to campus for interactive workshops. We partner with agencies such as the Special Olympics of Iowa and the Iowa chapter American Parkinson’s Disease Association to match our volunteers with community needs. Our student clubs form ongoing relationships with organizations such as Gigi’s Playhouse and the Children’s Cancer Connection.

Anecdotally, our students tell us that this experience is meaningful. The ultimate goal of working with patients can seem distant when they are focused on pharmacology flash cards, so taking time to make connections helps keep students motivated in their professional quest.

“As a medical student, we are constantly working towards a career that will allow us to give back to our communities and better the health of others,” says DMU student Neelpreet Toor. “But with the hectic schedules we often maintain, it can be hard to create opportunities to really give back. Des Moines University helps us overcome this obstacle, by continuously offering opportunities to become involved and stay involved. We are able to practice the clinical skills we learn and really develop meaningful relationships with those in need. I always learn something new!”

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Des Moines University was inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame in April of 2016, a huge honor recognizing the innumerable students, staff and faculty who’ve committed to volunteerism over the years. We’re looking forward to developing better ways that we can look not only at hours given or number of screenings performed, but at assess how volunteer involvement impacts student learning outcomes. We’re working with our partners at Iowa Campus Compact on strategies that will help us begin to make a more direct link between volunteer involvement and the success of our students as compassionate caregivers.

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