Outside the Bubble
Touro Students Connect with Underserved Community at Harlem Health Fair and Learn Lessons not Taught in Class
Approximately 200 Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (TouroCOM) students and two dozen community organizations descended upon the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building Plaza in Harlem on Friday, Oct. 28 for the school’s 14th biannual health fair.
Students and faculty provided a variety of health screenings and information, counseling and giveaways to over 100 attendees.
Emphasis on Heart Health
“The main theme of this year’s health fair was risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, the leading cause of death for minority populations, especially African American,” said Dr. Kamilah Ali, the TouroCOM faculty member who organized the event.
Key offerings for heart health were screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and body weight. Information on mental health, smoking cessation and healthy eating were also offered, with healthy food prepared on site by the local non-profit Harlem Grown, along with demonstrations of physical fitness activities.
Twenty-three organizations participated, about half of which were new to the fair. They included New York State Sickle Cell Advocacy Network, NYC Smoke Free, T.E.A.L. (Tell Every Amazing Lady About Ovarian Cancer), Food Bank For NYC, Planned Parenthood, Safe Horizon/Street Works, Mount Sinai Mobile Prostate Cancer Screening, NYU College of Dentistry, and the NYC Department for the Aging.
Harlem resident Stephen Morris signed up for a PSA blood test for prostate cancer after walking by Mount Sinai’s mobile screening van on the perimeter of the plaza. “I saw my parents die of cancer when they were very young,” said Morris. “A lot of people, especially in the African American community, don’t have access to services. I hope more people in the community will see (the van) and become informed.”
That sentiment was echoed by Janet Williams, a Bronx resident who accompanied her mother-in-law, a senior citizen and local resident, to the fair.
“I’m enjoying it and learning a lot. I have a problem with my knees. The exercises they showed me loosened up the joints for me. I’m getting more information,” she said. “It’s very helpful.”
Student Volunteers Engaged
The student volunteers appreciated being able to interact with local residents outside of the classroom. They learned first-hand how people feel about their health, what their concerns are and how to treat patients.
Kristina Fecanji, a second-year medical student and president of the Association of Women Surgeons group on campus, said she wanted to raise awareness of ovarian cancer and the importance of preventative measures like timely pap smears.
“I wanted them to know there is help out there and that they can reach out. The greatest satisfaction is someone saying ‘Thank you so much for telling me. I never knew that.’ Maybe I saved their life somehow because now they know,” she said.
Touro College of Pharmacy second-year student Ryan Fabian worked a table for the National Hispanic Pharmacists Association, where he talked to attendees about how to take drugs, manage side effects and “more importantly just offer education about the disease itself. Often we find people just take their medications but don’t really change their lifestyle to actually help them.”
Anna Krauss, also a second year medical student, welcomed attendees and escorted them around so they would not feel overwhelmed by all of the tents, white coats and information. She helped them write things down to share with their physicians.
“It’s a really good learning experience. It’s nice to talk to people who have different life experiences than me. It’s one of the reasons I came to Touro – to get outside my bubble and work with people I might not normally work with. It makes you a better doctor and a better person.”