It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, and a group of AUC medical students—flanked by volunteers from the American Red Cross (Red Cross)—gathered in front of the burnt-out husk of what used to be a Miami mobile home. They weren’t there to survey the home fire wreckage or to provide emergency care. They were there to work with residents of this underserved area to help make sure it didn’t happen again.

Students and South Florida Red Cross volunteers went door-to-door in the Trinidad Mobile Home Park on Oct. 22 to check and replace residents’ smoke alarms, help homeowners craft evacuation plans in the event of a fire, and share fire safety prevention tips with families. This volunteer event was made possible thanks to a new partnership between AUC and the Red Cross—an agreement that will pave the way for AUC to support Red Cross chapters across the country through other coordinated service initiatives.

“It’s very important that our students, as future physicians, understand the unique socioeconomic challenges faced by the communities they serve,” said Heidi Chumley, AUC’s executive dean and chief academic officer. “Volunteer activities like this one are valuable opportunities for our physicians-in-training to directly engage with community members and learn that there’s much more to being a doctor than diagnosing a disease.”

auc-arc-volunteer-installing-alarm.jpg“I Felt Like I Made a Difference”

AUC student Munish Kaushik stood deep in reflection in front of that burnt home. “These people care so much about their housing,” he said. “And to add even one layer of protection—a fire alarm—[it made them] very grateful.”

Munish, who is on track to graduate in 2017, volunteered for the event to get some additional face time with community members. “I wanted to do something that was important and that helped the community,” he said. “It’s so nice that AUC puts these together—I can just RSVP on an email and show up.”

Visiting the mobile park helped students understand how social and environmental challenges can impact a community’s health.

“You see [patients] in the clinic, but you don’t see them at home,” noted student and fellow volunteer Spencer Barela. “I understand now why someone can’t make three appointments in a row if they don’t have running water, let alone transportation. Perspective is really what it’s all about.”

Miroslava Bernier, a third-semester clinical student who volunteered for the event, was deeply affected by a conversation she had with the young mother of a one-month-old infant in one of the homes. “The mother was asking if it’s true that if there’s a fire, she needs to only grab the most important things and leave,” Bernier said. “We told her the only thing she had to grab was the baby.”

The Red Cross responds to almost 66,000 disasters annually, and the vast majority of them are home fires. Seven people die each day as a result of these fires, per the Red Cross. For the Red Cross’ South Florida Chapter, which provides aid to nearly two million people, home fires are an all too present danger.

“An Eye-Opening Experience”

Bernier wasn’t the only student who was profoundly affected by what she saw.

“It was definitely startling to see homes that didn’t have smoke alarms—something that we probably just take for granted,” said student Molly Kallins. “I think it was a really enlightening experience to help people have what we might consider baseline-level safety, and I think it’ll make me more aware in general.”

Fellow student Meaghan Flessa agreed, calling it an “eye-opening experience.” “I didn’t realize that there are large populations of people out there who don’t have access to [alarms] or have them in their homes. I really feel like I was able to connect with people and understand a bit more about the population here, and how to better serve them.”

“I think it’s not only being involved in the healthcare system, but being involved in a community of health—doing outreach, getting to know your patient population, understanding the types of homes they live in, and the potential socioeconomic differences and challenges they might face,” said Kallins.

auc-arc-volunteer-group-shirts.jpgFuture Opportunities with the Red Cross

In total, AUC students installed more than 45 smoke alarms for residents of the mobile park.

Many had volunteered with the Red Cross in the past, including at relief and reconstruction projects in St. Maarten, where AUC’s campus is located. For others, like Summer Yono, it was their first time interacting with the humanitarian organization.

“I was so happy to help and to do something,” she said. “It was just one day in one small community but I felt like we made a difference.”

“It was a successful day,” said Robert Baltodano, regional communications and marketing manager for the South Florida Region Red Cross. “In their hands, they could have the opportunity to perform an open heart operation, perhaps, but those same hands were able to install smoke detectors that one day may save a whole family.”

Baltodano, who accompanied AUC students during the event, had kind words for the aspiring physicians. “I was very impressed with their ability to connect with people, and very proud to see them making those connections early on in their careers. The impression I got was that AUC has some really good, dedicated students,” he said. “I can see them as doctors.”

He’s already thinking about other initiatives that could be a good fit for AUC students—like the Pillowcase Project, a disaster and emergency preparedness project geared toward elementary school students.

“I was so glad to see that AUC and its students are interested in these opportunities,” Baltodano said. “In the end, it’s really all about connecting with people.”

Read this post for general information on the AUC/Red Cross partnership.

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Gerry Kimbrough

Posted October 26, 2016 04:56 PM


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