April 26, 2013

House of Care

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By Molly O'Brien-Foelsch

LEWISBURG, Pa. —  Bucknell University Professor of Sociology Carl Milofsky launched a new course this semester that combines classroom learning with internships at local health-related organizations, including nearby Geisinger Medical Center.

"There's a tremendous interest and demand among students for experiences in public health," said Milofsky, who developed and co-teaches Sociology of Medicine, a 300-level elective, with Donna Laroya, Geisinger's university relations specialist who coordinates non-clinical internships and community programming efforts. The two designed the course to be "demanding and intense" academically, and to give students rich, informal learning experiences in the field.

The students met weekly on Geisinger's campus, with guest speakers joining each class to explore topics including the health impacts of natural gas drilling in the nearby Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania, the challenges unique to rural health, and the differences between how doctors and nurses get to know patients, among many other issues.

In addition to the coursework, each of the seven students committed a minimum of 10 hours per week to an internship project.

Becoming a better doctor
First-year student Jehan Momin, who plans to become a physician, created a wall of memories at Geisinger's House of Care, a lodging facility for adults with cancer. She interviewed former patients and incorporated their stories into a display near the front entrance of the facility.

"I was looking for ways to help patients feel more occupied and think about their time there in positive ways," said Momin. "Through this project, I've not only gained better insight into the physical processes of cancer, but also the psychological developments that can be just as significant. I see that patients are more than diseases — they're individuals. And that will make me a better doctor."

Momin's supervisor, House of Care director Michelle Smith, said the wall supports the therapeutic environment of the house and, because it's in a public space, helps bring people together to form a support network. "Jehan was wonderful," said Smith. "She's respectful, creative and takes a lot of initiative. This whole thing was a positive experience."

Promoting jobs for teens with disabilities
Sophomore Aaron Wilson, a music major who also plans to go to medical school, interned at the Hackey House with the Danville Transition Program, a program for Danville-area teens with cognitive and emotional disabilities. Wilson interviewed local businesses and organizations that provide experiences for students with disabilities to learn employment skills (some of which can be paid or unpaid). The intent of the project was to identify businesses that give people with disabilities job opportunities, and to identify the reasons why the businesses do so. The results will be used to convince other businesses to do the same.

"Working with people is a critical aspect of the class," said Wilson. "When you go into the field, you'll have to work with people, talk to them."

Fighting childhood obesity
Junior biology major Raissa Sorgho interned with Geisinger's Community Affairs department, developing surveys for regional school districts and building connections with school nurses to help schools better combat childhood obesity, a significant health issue facing residents in the area.

"This is exactly the kind of work I want to be doing," said Sorgho. "It's great practice for me — seeing how you can start a program from the basics."

Professional preparation
The other four students involved in internships through Sociology of Medicine are:

  • Victor Gonzalez, Volunteers in Medicine Free Clinic in Mifflinville, Pa. — Looked at the factors that make the clinic a success and those that hinder staff from delivering the services that clients need.
  • Malyse Uwase, Bloomsburg Women's Center — Researched how age influences survivors' willingness and ability to seek out treatment in cases of domestic violence.
  • Kety Silva, Geisinger Wellness Initiative — Developed a survey for the usage of "self-care essentials" booklets provided by Geisinger's Wellness program to its employees to gauge whether families and employees are using the tool to decrease unnecessary hospital visits.
  • Gia Ciccolo, Geisinger Hispanic Initiative — Worked with Geisinger's National Cancer Institute Community Cancers Center Program in Hazleton to assess issues related to cancer in under-represented populations, which have a high mortality rate in Pennsylvania.

The students who interned at Geisinger went through the medical center's employee training program, and all students received Institutional Review Board and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act training, said Milofsky. Laroya also put the students through "internship boot camp" to prepare them for professional-level work in the field.

"This is a way for students to make connections," said Laroya, "but also to try to keep the workforce in the area, to have students enjoy the work, and to show businesses the strength of the college workforce."

Travel costs to Geisinger and internship sites were made possible by the Meerwarth Sociology and Anthropology Research Fund, which supports undergraduate research in sociology and anthropology at Bucknell.

Contact: Division of Communications

View images of Aaron and Jehan.