Community service: Always in season

From medical student-run programs to stethoscope distribution in underserved areas, AMA programs show the joy of giving.

Posted Dec. 27, 2004.

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When December rolls around, it's human nature to begin considering resolutions for the new year -- commitments to do better, promises to think about others, pledges to give back. After all, 'tis the season.

Of course, these concepts are not new to medicine. They are integral components of its ethics and professionalism -- ideas represented all year long in the form of volunteerism, community service and grassroots involvement. This spirit is a part of every physician's dedication. Nurturing it begins early in medical training, and supporting such efforts is a goal the American Medical Association has long embraced.

Case in point: the AMA's Policy Promotion Grant program. The grants are designed to support projects that increase AMA and AMA-Medical Student Section visibility in a positive and proactive way and provide opportunities for ongoing involvement in communities.

Though modest in investment -- funded at $36,000 this year -- this program makes a big difference by encouraging AMA-MSS chapters across the country to put the Association's policies into action. Specifically, it provides support, usually between $150 and $500 each, to be used for projects to improve the health of a chapter's local community or to provide educational programs for medical student peers.

This past summer, for instance, AMA members from three neighboring medical schools -- the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences and the University of Kansas School of Medicine -- joined forces to organize a bone marrow drive. The goals were to increase community awareness about the low numbers of minority bone marrow donors and minority recipients. Key to the project's success was the waiver of the $25 fee that donors normally have to pay.

Another example was slated to occur this month at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, where AMA-MSS members planned a 5K run for children. Their goal: addressing the childhood obesity epidemic, which is also the focus of the MSS national service project, Healthy Lifestyles to Reduce Obesity, by encouraging kids to go outside and participate in activities. Between 800 and 1,000 children were expected at the Dec. 11 event, made possible through a partnership with the Toys for Tots program.

Other undertakings include an informational seminar on marriage for medical students hosted by the University of South Carolina School of Medicine AMA-MSS chapter in conjunction with the South Carolina Medical Assn. Alliance. At Indiana University School of Medicine, Bloomington, the MSS sponsored a Spanish night, designed to help medical students gain an elementary foundation in the language so they could better serve Spanish-speaking patients. Chapters also have held numerous forums to encourage medical students to achieve a better understanding of a broad range of health policy issues, including tort reform and the medical liability crisis.

Short term, the benefit is clear. AMA-MSS members make a difference in their communities. But positive results also will be evident long into the future as these physicians-in-training learn early the importance of community service -- a value that will continue throughout their careers.

In this manner, another important AMA program is WorldScopes. This project encourages physicians to think globally about making a difference.

As part of the Caring for Humanity initiative -- an effort to inspire and mobilize U.S. physicians to donate their time, expertise and resources at home and abroad -- this program, advanced by the AMA and the AMA Foundation in cooperation with the AMA Alliance, offers doctors of all ages and career stages a straightforward way to contribute. WorldScopes collects and distributes stethoscopes to medical professionals working in resource-poor locations around the globe. After all, the stethoscope is a universal symbol of modern scientific medicine, and the goal is to provide 100,000 of them from U.S. physicians.

These efforts, whether a stethoscope drive or a 5K run, seem varied in focus, but they are linked in nature. They are all about community service. It's a concept at the heart of the practice of medicine. As we look to the new year, these initiatives and the people involved in them offer real-life models of what this phrase, community service, actually means. In doing so, they also offer inspiration when writing that list of resolutions.

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External links

AMA Policy Promotion Grants program (link)

AMA Caring for Humanity project, WorldScopes (link)

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