Harvard Medical School received a $150,000 donation on Nov. 19 to support the development of an office for community-centered medical education.
The funding was provided by a private donor and will be used to promote the HMS Office for Community Centered Medical Education’s mission of fostering connections between HMS and Harvard School of Dental Medicine students and marginalized populations in the greater Boston area.
Since discussions of the office’s development began at HMS last spring, the office had a soft launch this fall, created a community health project with the HMS Office for Scholarly Engagement, and submitted its formalized vision, core values, and strategic plan to HMS leadership.
The office’s steering committee, led by Nancy E. Oriol — HMS’s associate dean for community engagement in medical education — hosted a series of town halls and online surveys to gauge the specific needs of students, faculty, and members of historically underserved regions in Boston.
“One thing that’s really important is when you think about community engagement, there’s this concept of slow co-production,” Oriol said. “When you create something, you should co-create it with the people who are going to be impacted by it.”
According to a survey administered by the HMS and HSDM student council to 80 percent of first-year medical students, 88 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that community engagement would be a part of their future careers in medicine or dentistry. Moreover, 85 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that the office for community-centered medical education would “enhance their educational experience.”
Building upon numerous conversations and survey results, the committee created a framework for the office’s intended mission and values, which include anti-racism, transparency, inclusivity, longitudinal sustainability, reciprocity, justice, and investment.
One of the office’s primary goals, according to Oriol, is to build trust and meaningful relationships with community organizations while helping to accommodate a busy and ever-changing population of medical students.
The office has also worked to create a community health pathway within the Medical School’s scholarly project graduation requirement, in which students explore a health-related issue and receive faculty mentorship.
Typically, the most robust support had been provided to students who engaged in research, international work, or clinical work for their scholarly project requirement, per Oriol. There was no existing pathway within the project’s guidelines that specifically encouraged student engagement with the greater Boston area.
“It hasn’t always been that the medical establishment felt that this type of work was a currency for scholarship,” Oriol said. “This past year has taught us that it is critical medical scholarship — that the structural racism that has impacted people's health was not part of the way we tended to talk about medicine.”
“The consequences of systematically devaluing communities, under-resourcing, has led to a healthcare landscape that must be addressed,” she added.
Oriol explained the office intends to develop a website that will serve as a centralized hub to list community engagement resources and mentorship opportunities for students and faculty to utilize.
“Harvard has always allowed 1,000 flowers to bloom — which is a lovely thing — but organizing that so that it’s usable by both students and community and faculty is one of the first things we have to do,” she said.
Oriol added that she believes public service engagement is crucial in training a medical workforce to provide healthcare for a diverse population of individuals, particularly those from marginalized groups disproportionately affected by health issues.
“It’s an incredibly important foundation for building physicians who are ready to care for all patients — physicians who are ready to understand how the context of the patient’s life impacts what they can do,” Oriol said.
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