September 3, 2021

Family Medicine’s MDisability wraps up another successful summer internship program

Three more students learn about conducting research related to those with disabilities and engage in community and educational disability projects, among other activities.

The University of Michigan Department of Family Medicine’s MDisability Summer Internship Program has wrapped up another successful session, with three more students learning ways to promote healthcare access and equity for people with disabilities.

The internship, now in its third year, is a unique academic program designed for upperclass level college or graduate/professional students. The program has found great momentum, attracting 32 qualifying applicants this year, an upwards trajectory from just three students who applied to the summer internship in 2019.

MDisability Summer Interns for 2021 as well as MDisability Program Coordinator Dawn Michael
MDisability Summer interns include top left, Hiwot Abate; lower left, Grayson Buning; and lower right, Lydia Smeltz. Dawn Michael, MDisability Program coordinator, is pictured top right.

This past summer interns include Hiwot Abate, a fourth-year medical student at Tulane University; Grayson Buning, a senior at the University of Michigan who is on the pre-med track; and Lydia Smeltz, a Duke University graduate who has just started her first year at Penn State College of Medicine (PSCOM).

The internship taught Abate, Buning and Smeltz how to develop basic research skills; gave them exposure to disability-related health policy; engaged them in community and education based disability projects; and helped them to explore best practices for the education of providers with a disability and the care of patients with disabilities.

The interns also undertook various disability health projects that allowed them to work with department faculty mentors. Additionally, they attended several disability-related talks and research/medical profession-focused student programs.

The interns ultimately gave final project presentations at a research meeting with the Department of Family Medicine leadership, faculty, administrators and staff members.

Abate did a presentation on hearing loss linked to a higher rate of incident cardiovascular disease in adults.

Being a part of the MDisability Internship Program has demonstrated to me the need for and impact of scientific research,” said Abate. “I now have a deeper appreciation for the power of scientific research in improving the health of patients by providing guidelines for patient care and changing health care policy.”

Buning did a longitudinal study presentation on the impact of hearing loss on psychological and psychosocial health.

“The MDisability internship provided me with valuable skills in disability advocacy and research and offered important lessons about access, inclusion, and health equity,” he said. “As the internship progressed, I was exposed to more and more information about important work being done in these spaces and about work of this sort that is still yet to be done.

“As a result, I've become ever more motivated to continue to do disability research in the hope that I can contribute to advancing these goals of access, inclusion, and health equity.”

Buning said he plans to continue to work with MDisability faculty on relevant projects as he prepares to apply to medical school, with the ultimate goal of becoming a physician committed to improving healthcare experiences and outcomes for patients with disabilities.

Smeltz, who had already started medical school and couldn’t attend the meeting, produced a video detailing her research project, "Mapping Adaptive Sports, Fitness, Recreation, & Leisure Opportunities: An Ann Arbor Pilot Project.”

“I am excited to bring the skills and expertise I have gained to Penn State College of Medicine,” Smeltz said,. “I have gained confidence in my knowledge and ability to effectively collaborate with others to critically examine the ways things are done and brainstorm how we can improve accessibility and inclusion.

“I plan to build community partnerships and engage with persons with disabilities to improve the accessibility and delivery of healthcare and medical student education at PSCOM.”

To read the original story about the 2021 MDisability Summer interns, click here.

Students with a disability are strongly encouraged to apply for participation in a future MDisability internship program. For more information about applying to the internship program, please email MDisability Program Coordinator Dawn Michael at dawnmi@med.umich.edu