August 26, 2016

Jenn: Choosing to be compassionate

Student group lets med students put their caring into action

Student stands in front of building in Detroit

M2 Jenn is passionate about global women’s health issues, such as safe motherhood and caring for vulnerable populations.

Shortly after arriving on campus, she joined the University of Michigan Asylum Collaborative’s leadership team as the liaison to Freedom House Detroit, a temporary home for persons seeking asylum in the U.S. after being subjected to persecution and torture in their home countries due to personal beliefs.

Freedom House coordinates all of the legal and social services for their clients throughout the three-year application process for asylum.

Here, Jenn answers five questions about how the Collaborative is helping these survivors, and why as a physician-in-training there’s no such thing as caring too much.

What is the University of Michigan Asylum Collaborative?

The University of Michigan Asylum Collaborative (UMAC) is a student-led initiative started three years ago that helps Freedom House Detroit with the asylum process by training and coordinating medical students and physicians to perform forensic medical evaluations and submit an affidavit on each survivor’s behalf. The national asylum approval rate is 37.5%, however with a medical affidavit to corroborate the testimony of the applicant that rate increases to 89%.

How did you get involved with the University of Michigan Asylum Collaborative?

I have worked with survivors of human trafficking before and came into medical school wanting to help provide care for this population. When I discovered UMAC at the student activities fair at the beginning of my M1 year, it reignited that fire in my chest.

To see our reflection in his eyes was one of the most reaffirming moments in my life that I am going into the correct profession. For me, this is the beginning of a lifelong career of passionate service.

Jenn, U-M medical student
What is the UMAC Patient History Project Initiative?

As a medical organization, we became dissatisfied with being unable to offer the residents of Freedom House any medical care during their lengthy application process due to liability issues. The leadership team in the class above mine had begun to develop a Patient History Project, with the aim of connecting asylum-seekers to the U.S. health care system through the creation of an electronic medical record that individuals could bring to appointments at the various free clinics they visit for care.

I joined the UMAC leadership team as the Freedom House Detroit liaison, which was a new position designed to be responsible for bringing the patient history project to fruition, and we have succeeded more than we could have imagined.

How does it work?

Each month I travel to Freedom House Detroit with a group of preclinical student volunteers and a supervising clinical student. The students work in teams to elicit thorough medical and social histories, as well as current concerning symptoms to create a comprehensive EMR for each resident. This gives the preclinical students a wonderful opportunity to practice their interviewing skills, especially with a vulnerable population such as this.

The supervising clinical student then listens to the students’ oral presentations of the histories and directs them on any potential areas for follow-up. The clinical student composes a session summary for Freedom House Detroit staff that describes pertinent past medical history information as well as potential issues for medical follow-up. Although we are legally unable to provide the care ourselves, we want to ensure that anyone who needs care receives it. The Freedom House staff coordinates finding appropriate care for these patients and helps to maintain their EMRs.

How has being involved with the Collaborative impacted your medical school experience?

One of the patients at a recent session thanked me for the simplest thing of all: caring. As we leaned against the doorway in the crowded and bustling house, he explained that a Good Samaritan is someone who cares for those who have nothing. He was so deeply moved by the passion of our student volunteers that he declared we were sent from God to help them. To see our reflection in his eyes was one of the most reaffirming moments in my life that I am going into the correct profession. For me, this is the beginning of a lifelong career of passionate service.