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Interview With Sophie

NCCHCA Data Analyst Brings Community Health to American Medical Student Association Program


We’d like to introduce you to just one of the smart and interesting people that works here at NCCHCA. Sophie To, (on the left in photo below) our data analyst, also plays an important role in the American Medical Student Association. Leslie Wolcott asked her to share some of her experiences educating her peers on the social mission of medicine and community health.

What did you present at the AMSA conference?
I presented a poster describing the new curriculum I developed for the AMSA Premedical Scholars Program, and reflecting on the successes and limitations of the program this year.

What is the AMSA Premedical Scholars Program?
The AMSA Premedical Scholars Program (PMSP) is one of the courses offered in AMSA’s webinar-based online learning community, AMSA Academy. The PMSP was developed last year with the goal of encouraging future physicians to embrace and advance the social mission of medicine throughout their careers. This year, it was one of the most highly attended scholars programs, with 47 students enrolled.

What is your past role with them?
For the 2016-17 term, I was Director of the PMSP. I have also served on the editorial advisory board of AMSA’s magazine The New Physician from 2014-2015 and served as the Premedical Education Coordinator on the Premedical Leadership Team from 2015-2016.

What new module did you propose, and why? What was the reaction to it?
Last year, the scholars program had seven sessions, and focused mainly on the social mission of medicine through the lens of the Beyond Flexner movement. I restructured the curriculum to expose scholars to more topics while still keeping the overarching theme – the social mission of medicine – intact. I included four modules: Introduction to the Social Mission of Medicine, Introduction to the US Healthcare System and Health Policy, Community and Population Health, and Global Issues in Medicine and Public Health. Many sessions, especially in the health policy and community health modules, were shaped and inspired by the work that I get to witness NCCHCA and our Community Health Centers. For example, one of our session speakers in the community health module was Craig Kennedy, Executive Director of the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved (ACU), who spoke at NCCHCA’s winter board meeting. He talked to the scholars about ways to get involved in community health, emphasizing National Health Service Corps. One of our global health speakers was Braveen Ragunanthan, a current medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University who holds an MPH from Johns Hopkins and who has worked for the DHHS and WHO on The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other infectious disease initiatives; he did a great advocacy exercise with the scholars where they practiced calling their legislators (but at night, so it was less nerve-wracking); and he is going to practice medicine in an underserved area through National Health Service Corps upon graduation! Scholars found Craig and Braveen’s presentations to be among the most compelling. We were lucky to get some big-name speakers too, like Dr. Walter Tsou, Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan, and Dr. Stacey Chamberlain, who are all advocates of community health.

Lastly, I designed a final project for students that included having each scholar 1) create patient education material on a topic of their choice, specifying their target audience (we encouraged them to consider vulnerable or underserved populations), and 2) complete a brief write-up detailing how they would deliver their patient education material most effectively. I wanted to drive home the point that any educational material is only as effective as its means of dissemination, and that context is key in determining what method would be best. Some of my students are actively implementing their projects in their communities – for example, a group of students in New York will distribute their brochures at a free clinic. Some students presented their projects at this year’s AMSA Convention as well, and one won an award at Convention for her project – a chemotherapy tracking app.

In terms of reaction to the new curriculum/modules, my vice directors, many of my scholars, and I agree that the organization of the program could be improved a great deal, but in terms of content, the vast majority of scholars found the topics valuable and the speakers enjoyable. Students seemed to learn a lot, and were exposed to topics that they would not have explored in the classroom as part of a traditional premedical track. I think the program did well for being just in its second year, and this curriculum did well for being in its very first year! I have spoken to next year’s director, and it looks like she is planning to keep my curriculum framework in place at least for next year. All speakers from this year have agreed to return in future years when possible, so this was a good sign too.

What’s next for you?
I am planning to attend an MPH degree program in the fall to study social/behavioral sciences and chronic disease epidemiology (deciding between Columbia, Yale, and Boston University). Afterward, I hope to enter a PhD or MD/PhD program to research how social, behavioral, and environmental factors can embed in a person’s biology, potentially affecting their own life course as well as the genetic/epigenetic makeup of their children. I’d like to focus especially on adult obesity.
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