In August The Salvation Army had a unique opportunity to partner with the largest medical school in the world, the Indiana University School of Medicine, to help prepare the next generation of physicians for a career serving their community. Working through the Medical Service-Learning Department, we crafted two experiences that would give first-year medical students a chance to learn more about the population that The Salvation Army serves across Indiana.
The first event involved all the IUSM first-year medical students enrolled at the school’s nine Indiana campuses. More than 225 young men and women traveled to the Fountain Square neighborhood just south of downtown Indianapolis for a day of learning and giving back. Upon entering The Salvation Army Fountain Square Corps Community Center, they were greeted with the sight of rows and rows of bicycle parts. Their goal by the end of the morning was to complete several team-building and problem solving tasks to “earn” bike parts. The tasks challenged teams of students to collaborate, ask questions, and think outside the box – all skills needed to work in the fast-paced and high-demand world of medicine.
After lunch, the teams tackled a new task: assembling dozens of bicycles that would be used by the residents of the Fountain Square neighborhood. Lisa Christy, Director of Medical Service-Learning at the Indiana University School of Medicine, worked with The Salvation Army to make the most of this unique opportunity. “This was amazing,” Lisa commented afterwards. “Not because medical students did medical things, but because they were exposed to organizations who work with community members to provide services so many of us take for granted. There were group challenges to help encourage working together to find solutions, working as a larger community to find resources and, at the core of the service, students built 54 bicycles and provided bike locks and water bottles that will be given to community members that may otherwise have no transportation access.”
Lieutenants Brandon and Megan Lewis, Salvation Army officers at the Fountain Square corps, talked with the students about a neighborhood of contradictions – a place where hip new businesses and generational poverty share city blocks. The bicycles built by the students will be put to good use, helping men and women in the neighborhood travel to work and school, removing transportation barriers and providing new opportunities and a better quality of life for themselves and their families.
The second round moved medical students to another Indianapolis corps, The Salvation Army Eagle Creek Corps Community Center on the city’s northwest side. A smaller group of around 150 students attending the Indianapolis campus participated in a first-ever service learning experience as part of their coursework. Working in large assembly lines, the students packed large bags with items that most of us take for granted: toilet paper and tissues, disposable razors and shaving cream, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soaps and lotions, disinfectant wipes and paper towels. They added extras like memo books, socks, and handwritten notes from the students themselves.
Once packed, students walked from the corps community center to its neighboring building, a residential complex for seniors called Booth Manor. This Salvation Army-operated residence helps struggling, low-income older adults by offering an affordable option that comes with all the benefits of living next door to a busy corps. Booth Manor residents enjoy frequent visits to the corps for meals, bingo, worship services, Bible study, and social gatherings. Because of fixed incomes, though, they can struggle to buy necessities like those packed by the medical students. As the filled bags were hand delivered to each residential apartment, the reaction from residents was universal.
“I just feel so blessed,” said one resident, who insisted on giving the students in her apartment a big hug, even though medical issues meant that she could no longer stand up to dole out her hugs. Some residents headed down to the community room on Booth Manor’s first floor so that the medical students could practice a skill learned just days before – taking a blood pressure reading. Then it was time to mingle, older residents sharing stories with younger students, opening their eyes to struggles and challenges that may seem foreign to the first years.
“While the focus of this event was teamwork and getting to know each other, it planted a seed to want to do more to make an imprint,” explained Lisa. “My personal motto is, ‘People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.’ Experiences like this allow others to see each other through a different lens. Through medical students’ curriculum and as doctors they will learn how to treat – or doctor – patients but through service they will learn how to treat – care for – people.”
As part of their visit, the students were also able to play bingo with a group from Booth Manor and learn more about other programs for both youth and adults. They tried their hands at archery, using the same equipment that the Eagle Creek corps’ archery teams use for practice and competitions. Several university deans joined the students, emphasizing the importance of community involvement and the reciprocal learning that comes with these types of volunteer experiences. Captains Jonathan and Chrissy Cooper, who operate the Eagle Creek corps, spoke to the students about volunteer activities throughout the year, from bell ringing at Christmas to helping maintain the community garden in the summer.
Many thanks to the Indiana University School of Medicine for working with The Salvation Army to instill a sense of community and service in the next generation of medical professionals. If you would like to learn more about the IUSM Office of Medical Student Service-Learning, visit mse.medicine.iu.edu.