Medical students bring healthy learning to North Lawndale kids
Medical students from UIC’s Urban Medicine Program are bringing health education and career information to North Lawndale, helping underserved youth — and their families.
“We’re watching kids discover their potential,” said Stephen Addington, fourth-year medical student and co-director of the Young Doctors Club.
Founded in 2009, the Young Doctors Club sprang from the Urban Medicine Program in partnership with the Lawndale Community Church. The club is sponsored by the Lawndale Christian Health Center, Albert Schweitzer Fellowship program, the Chicago Area Health Education Center and the Urban Health Program.
UIC medical students work with Lawndale elementary, middle and high school students, presenting a health science curriculum and introducing them to health science careers.
“We use a lot of the same outlines for the program as we use in medical school,” said Rebekah Harding, one of the club’s 12 leadership team members and a fourth-year med student. “It’s really neat because it’s kind of a mini medical school for them.”
This year’s focus is global health. In previous years, the curriculum has included the muscular, cardiovascular, nervous, gastrointestinal and skeletal systems.
The program is held on Fridays throughout the school year. Lessons are supplemented with hands-on activities, real-life applications, educational field trips and guest lectures.
“It’s kind of a mini medical school”
“Students learn valuable health and nutrition education like reading blood pressure, sugar levels and glucose screenings,” Harding said.
North Lawndale resident Toni Branch found out about the program through the Christian Lawndale Community Church. Both her daughters, one in high school and the other in grammar school, are YDC students.
“The best part about Young Doctors is that it really challenges children,” she said.
Her older daughter, Shantez Branch, already has long-term education and career goals because of the program. “We went on a field trip to UIC where a physical therapist talked about his career, and I thought, ‘Oh, that fits my personality,’ because I’m a big sports fan and I like to exercise,” she said.
She wants to pursue a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physical therapy at Northern Illinois University, then get a Ph.D. at Howard University in Washington D.C.
The program inspired her mother, too. “I had no intentions of going on and continuing my education, but I sat in a couple of Young Doctors sessions and they motivated me,” Branch said. She is now working on an associate of science degree in nursing.
“Eventually I’ll get my bachelor’s, and my ultimate goal is to become an operating room nurse,” she said. “Every semester, the leaders of YDC check in with me, they even help me with my homework.”
“Everyone is invested”
“Whenever you’re dealing with kids, you’re dealing with the whole community, because everyone is invested,” said Addington, who has known the Branch family for four years (he taught Shantez how to parallel park). “It’s about the relationships and watching kids grow, not only in their talent and knowledge, but in their understanding of what they can do.”
The Young Doctors Club hosts an annual mini health fair every June, where students present their work to the community. The health fair also offers free health screenings.
“These are kids from the community that are talking to adults about their health and are educating the community around them. That has had so much more power than someone else helicoptering in and giving them health information,” Harding said.
“When your kids learn it, they make you practice it,” Branch said. “They make me health conscious, and if I’m not, they give me lectures about it.”
YDC leaders want to expand the program to offer ACT preparation classes, MCAT preparation materials and scholarships. “We want to make sure those doors are wide open for them,” Harding said.