Building homes and partnerships with Medical Sciences and the community

Who let this person have a hammer?
Who let this person have a hammer?

Anatomy and physiology courses offer wonderful opportunities for service learning. Our students may volunteer at local health clinics and hospitals, they may organize health fairs for school children, and/or they may visit individuals in hospices and retirement homes. These service learning ventures often are organized by the professors and it is the students who are the primary volunteers, but this is not always the case. Our medical students at IU frequently initiate and organize their own community engagement ventures. And recently, one such venture solicited both student AND faculty volunteers to work together.

halfway done with the siding!
halfway done with the siding!

This venture was a Habitat for Humanity build. Our first year class representative (Bryce) was active with Habitat for Humanity in the past, and he arranged a Medical Sciences ‘build’ day where both medical students and faculty could participate. Bryce took it upon himself to solicit volunteers, prepare the work schedule, and liaison with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to set up a good date and site. I’ve always been impressed with Habitat’s work, and I jumped at the chance to participate in a build. In addition, I was looking forward to working with my students and colleagues in a non-classroom setting.

The morning started out chilly and many of us were a little sleepy, but we were excited to begin work.  We began the morning with learning a bit about our tasks (either putting up vinyl siding on two homes or doing the indoor painting) and we met the families who would live in these homes, as they worked beside us.  We learned about the ‘sweat equity’ these families had to earn (by working on other families’ homes first) before they could build a home of their own.  And we met the wonderful coordinators and leaders of the local Habitat chapter.

Many of us had never put up siding before, but we quickly learned, thanks to the guidance provided by Bryce.  Slowly but surely,

from none to done in a day!
from none to done in a day!

the back of one house (which had no siding in the morning) was completely covered with siding by the day’s end.  This was a remarkable feat for us, especially considering we made some mistakes and had to remove some of our work and start over again.  Students and faculty worked as a team towards a common goal.  So the team wasn’t in the hospital room or O.R. – but the team building was incredibly valuable.   And in a single day, we had a tangible product to show for our hard work.

I personally viewed this opportunity as a way that I could help some others in our community.   What I did not expect was how this opportunity helped strengthen the relationships I had with my students and colleagues, and how much *I* learned from this whole venture.

IU School of Medicine Habitat volunteers - a job well done!
IU School of Medicine Habitat volunteers – a job well done!

So I challenge all of you to think ‘outside the box’ when it comes to service learning ventures with your A&P students.  Don’t feel that the community engagement must occur in a health care setting, just because we teach anatomy and physiology.  Perhaps your local animal shelter needs some volunteers to help exercise the animals, or perhaps the local Boys and Girls club would like a group of students and faculty to simply play some board games with their kids.  In the end, we strengthen our relationships with the community and all of us learn to work as a team – and isn’t that what we want our future health care professionals to know?

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