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Geisel’s Urban Health Scholars Receive MLK Social Justice Award

Congratulations to the Geisel School of Medicine’s Urban Health Scholars program—recipient of a 2016 Dartmouth College Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Award for Student Organizations.

The Urban Health Scholars (UHS) immerses first- and second-year medical students in underserved and minority communities to help them understand not only the individual dynamics of each community but their similarities. This select group of eight scholars is dedicated to serving these communities and in bringing more awareness to the problems that plague them. The program is housed within Geisel’s Office of Student and Multicultural Affairs.

Current Geisel Urban Health Scholars pose with Geisel alumnus Dr. Chidi Achebe (Med'96) (front row, second from left)
Current Geisel Urban Health Scholars pose with Geisel alumnus Dr. Chidi Achebe (Med'96) (front row, second from left) while on their recent immersion trip to Boston.

“We are so excited to have our medical students good work acknowledged as recipients of the award for a student group,” says Shawn O'Leary, director of multicultural affairs. “The Urban Health Scholars have worked tirelessly to engage and positively impact urban underserved communities, and they have demonstrated a high level of commitment to addressing the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

As a former special education teacher working in a Title I New York City public school, Andrea Jaresova ’18 witnessed the close relationship between education and health outcomes in underserved populations. She and fellow students Lye Yeng Wong ’18 and Greg McDonough ’18 of Geisel’s Physicians for Human Rights along with Medical Education Scholar Erin D’Agostino ’18 collaborated on designing a curriculum for and establishing a first-ever HiSET program at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, NH. HiSET is New Hampshire’s High School Equivalency Certificate. Medical students and Dartmouth undergraduates co-teach the weekly classes preparing incarcerated youth for the HiSET exam, which they are eligible to take during their institutional stay. To date, several Sununu students have earned equivalency certificates.

While teaching broader lessons to improve their ability to think critically, self-reflect, and make informed decisions, Jaresova says the teachers also learn valuable lessons in understanding the daily challenges and adversity diverse populations face.

“I am happy to see my peers recognized for the hard work they do here on campus and beyond. One of my favorite things about Urban Health Scholars is the overwhelming support we give to each other while pursuing our numerous health service projects.”

In addition to working with communities in Manchester, UHS participate in national conferences, connect with homeless shelters, state health departments, and community clinics, traveling to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and New York City. They also host educational events, discuss scholarly papers, and bring speakers to campus.

Ecstatic to be a recipient of the award, Chinwe Echeazu ’18 says, “We don’t do what we do for recognition—we do it to better communities that most need our help and to make sure we are as prepared as possible to do so.

“From an individual perspective, I am honored to be part of this group. I know I speak for all the scholars when I say that we are thankful for the recognition—it helps us increase awareness about the communities we are so passionate about.”

Scholars continue leading urban service projects throughout their medical education, building on their understanding of the cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic factors affecting underserved patient access to health care, which in turn enables them to educate and improve the overall health of diverse urban populations.

For Dwan Pineros ’18, UHS is proving to be an invaluable experience. “The program is a great resource for me—whether it has been learning about vulnerable patient populations, journal article discussions, or going to the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program to meet with its founder, UHS has afforded me a breadth of opportunities to learn about how healthcare is delivered to the urban underserved.

“The conversations I have had with those I’ve met, and with my peers who were with me at every step, continue to reverberate in my mind. More importantly, they inform how I envision practicing medicine.”

Established by Dartmouth College, the Social Justice Award recognizes members of the college community who have made significant contributions to peace, civil rights, education, public health, environmental justice, or social justice and their dedication to the difficult work of fostering human dignity through their projects, programs, and visions.

The award is co-sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, Office of Institutional Diversity & Equity, William Jewett Tucker Foundation, and Geisel School of Medicine.