While some students choose to relax during summer vacation, six medical students decided to spend the early part of their break working alongside Valley doctors to help the area’s underserved communities.
Kenneth Job, who graduated from Buchanan High School in 2007, volunteered to spend four weeks working with patients and mentoring other students through Research, Education, and Community Health in the San Joaquin Valley (REACH SJV).
The program has been invaluable, Job said.
“The wide range of experience that we have gotten has been amazing,” he said. “It isn’t required, but I wish it were because we’re seeing patients from different backgrounds that we wouldn’t see elsewhere.”
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There are four components to the program: mentorship, community outreach, clinical and research, said Job, a student at UC Davis School of Medicine.
The six participants mentored pre-medical students at Fresno State to help them plan for their future education.
“We mentored students from underprivileged backgrounds to give them the access to medical schools that a lot of us didn’t have growing up,” he said.
The community outreach component was Job’s favorite part of the program.
“We reached out to different communities to get a better perception of the communities we hope to serve when we complete medical school,” he said. “We had a Latino roundtable talk about lack of resources and access to healthcare.”
Students also met with advocates for the Valley’s Hmong and Sikh populations.
“We got to listen to their struggles as a culture seeking health care and the some of the challenges they’ve experienced growing up in the Valley,” he said.
These outreach opportunities took Job to cities like Corcoran and Fowler, which he had never visited before. Learning about different cultural groups by speaking with members face-to-face was eye-opening, he said.
“I would have never heard those experiences firsthand,” he said. “It was so different for me and I learned a lot.”
He and his fellow students got to apply what they learned through community outreach to their clinical work with Valley doctors.
“We were shadowing physicians ranging from small clinics in Merced to family medical clinics in Fowler to get that same kind of experience, but inside a clinical aspect,” Job explained. “We were talking with patients and learning what it’s like to take care of different backgrounds of the Central Valley. In medical schools, we don’t get to shadow doctors in these diverse communities.”
For their research component, the students surveyed residents to see where they planned to practice after completing their residencies in Fresno.
“We are trying to figure out why the Central Valley is struggling to retain physicians,” Job said. “People are completing their residencies here but not staying in the Valley when they’re done. We’re trying to figure out what factors are playing into that to help alleviate the shortage of physicians in the Valley.”
REACH was designed by seven UC Davis medical students last year and focuses on immersive community engagement that aims to address needs in the Valley.
“REACH is a way to keep the students connected to the Valley,” said Dr. Kenny Banh, assistant dean for Undergraduate Medical Education and Student Services at UCSF Fresno. “The fact that the program was created by medical students for medical students is what makes it especially unique and impactful.”
Participating medical students are in between their first and second years of medical school.
“We are looking for more students to be a part of it, but spending your summer break in Fresno is kind of tough to sell,” Job said. “All of the students who participated this year have ties to the Central Valley.”
The program started in mid-May and ended this month.
Other students who participated in the program this year were Karenee Demery from Merced, Mandeep (Mandy) Sidhu from Bakersfield, Monique Atwal from Selma.Neetu Malhi from Fresno and Stephanie Melchor from Visalia.
While Job is undecided as to which specialty he would like to pursue as a doctor, he is leaning toward primary care.
“I see that’s where I can have the most impact in the Central Valley because in primary care you reach a wider population of patients,” he said. “I know I want to come back to the Valley; that’s where I consider home.”