February 22, 2016

Mariam: Taking notice. Taking action.

Connecting med students and communities for better care

Medical student practices clinical skills

Growing up in an Arabic community, M2 Mariam always had an interest in health care within this culture, a passion which only grew deeper when she immigrated to the United States with her family and noticed barriers faced by the Arab American community here. During her undergraduate years, Mariam volunteered at a few events organized by ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), the largest Arab American human services nonprofit in the United States.

Today, Mariam concentrates her efforts with three main programs at ACCESS that target cancers and chronic diseases: Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program, Colorectal Cancer Screening Program and the WISEWOMAN Program. Here, she talks about how her work with ACCESS not only gives her an opportunity to connect with her community but also raise awareness and expand pathways for medical students to get involved, including the launch of a new initiative with her sister Marwa, an incoming medical student.

The Arab American community here in Michigan is composed of a unique immigrant population that tends to be understudied and medically underserved. There are numerous health barriers that are unique to this community and they can be divided into three main categories: cultural, socioeconomic and psychosocial.

Through research, we hope to eliminate many of these barriers as we shed more light on the numerous health concerns as well as the more sensitive and stigmatized topics within Arab American health care.

Mariam, U-M medical student

“During the past year, I had the opportunity to initiate a couple of studies at ACCESS regarding community knowledge, risk factors and screening barriers for breast cancer as well as colorectal cancer in collaboration with a couple of faculty members from our medical school. I am also working on a lifestyle modification study for women within the community who suffer from diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia.

“Aside from research, there are numerous opportunities for medical students to be involved with ACCESS. For example, our Muslim Medical Student Association (MMSA) and Medical Students of Middle-Eastern Descent (MSMD) groups collaborate yearly with ACCESS at their health fairs and provide screening services to participants.

“Through the Health Equity Scholars Program (HESP) last year, I helped to coordinate a site visit to ACCESS. This year through the Global Health and Disparities Path of Excellence (GHD), we planned a mini-field project with ACCESS that focused on learning more about refugees and immigrants in Michigan, including asylum seekers, and victims of war, torture and domestic abuse.

“The Arab American Health Initiative is currently an unofficial program that my sister Marwa and I started this year under the guidance of Dr. R. Alexander Blackwood. Marwa and I were inspired by our mutual interest in making a difference in Arab American health care as we go through the journey of medicine together. Being part of the Dearborn community and noticing health challenges as a family when we immigrated back in 2009, we are both well aware of many of the barriers that are faced by the Arab American community. Our passion for making a difference in Arab American health care as well as our joy in mentorship is what led us to start this initiative.

“Our ultimate goal for AAHI is to become an established initiative that serves as a platform for Arab American health research at U-M and create official ties with community organizations working towards similar goals. Through AAHI, we would like to:

  1. Connect with the community and share our research findings and data through bilingual posts, which would help reduce many of the barriers and shed light on many of the more sensitive community health concerns.
  2. Establish a network of medical students, graduate students and undergraduates who have a genuine interest in conducting research and promoting proper health care within the Arab American community.
  3. Connect and establish a group of committed faculty members from various specialties with interest in Arab American health that would serve as mentors on this initiative.
  4. Provide a tiered mentorship experience that allows for a holistic learning environment for the different members within this initiative.
  5. Carry on AAHI projects here in the United States as well as abroad in the Arab world.

“Prior to coming to Michigan, I knew about some amazing projects and successes that the Global Health and Disparities Path of Excellence students did, and this certainly factored strongly into my decision to come here. I knew that the GHD program would allow me to become more competent in terms of global health care, and eventually transform my own ideas into action. In fact, AAHI was inspired by my GHD experiences and certainly by HESP as well.

“Having groups where I could connect with culturally and religiously also played a role in my decision to attend Michigan. Being involved with MMSA and MSMD certainly reinforced my passion and interest in Arab American health care.

“Michigan is the ideal place for pursuing your passions. Faculty members are always welcoming and extremely receptive. They will always take the extra step to make sure you have a right fit for you and your passions and will guide you to the right individuals to ensure so. Ultimately, it is great to be at a place built on diversity and support for all students!”