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Proper introduction

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  • Working in a Bloomington clinic that served many immigrant patients who lack insurance convinced Maarya Pasha of Apple Valley that she wanted to learn more about health care for the needy.

  • Coming from California, Justin Kohl wanted to gain knowledge about his new community and its variety of populations.

  • Growing up "sheltered" in Austin, Minn., Tyler Conway wanted more experiences of different cultures.

  • Theirs are some of the reasons two dozen future physicians chose to spend three days prior to their official orientation to the University of Minnesota Medical School immersed in an "Introduction to the Urban Area" program. They learned from faculty, community members, and community activities about the Twin Cities, cultural nuances, and, particularly, health disparities.

    Health disparities material simply is not in the curriculum, says organizer Ken Dodd, a second-year medical student. He and co-organizer Nancy Cole borrowed the idea of this pre-orientation introduction from another medical school. Fortunately, they found faculty supporters who are passionate about the topic. "They saw the need was there," says Dodd.

    Stereotypes directly affect clinical decision-making, said Sean Phelan, an advanced student who has a master's in public health. Cancer care providers, for instance, are likely to underestimate pain in minority patients. The good news? Care providers can learn to focus on unique individuals rather than their group.

    Faculty speakers also included Kola Okuyemi and Michele Allen from the Medical School Program in Health Disparities Research, Eric Meininger from Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, Associate Dean for Students and Student Learning Kathleen Watson, and Kathleen Call from the School of Public Health. Mitchell Davis from the Minnesota Department of Health also presented to the group on health disparities.

    Leaders from the local Hmong and Somali communities made strong impressions on the students, offering insights about everything from gender considerations (Somali women want female doctors and Somali men, males) to their difficulties in the health-care system. Community activities included door-knocking to inform south Minneapolis residents about a free clinic in the Sabathani Community Center and taking part in activities at People Serving People (in photos, above), Dorothy Day Center, and Neighborhood House .

    Another lesson? "You have to get political," says Ali Samikoglu, from Rochester, Minn. "With only 15 minutes [to see individual patients], you're really hitting the wall in care of the underserved." Compensation and systems have to change, he added. As medical students, he and his peers must take responsibility: "We are now part of the system."

    Students were positive about the Introduction. "It was spectacular, from A to Z," said Adam Krause, from Mound, Minn.

    Dodd benefitted, too. He had the valuable experience of organizing this brand-new three-day learning event from scratch. Even better, he says: "I've gotten to learn along with the students."