Individuals who choose to pursue a career in healthcare are often motivated by a deep-seated desire to help others. A number of students in Meredith’s Pre-Health Post-Baccalaureate Certificate program are already taking steps to do so through initiatives designed to support both patients and healthcare providers in the Triangle area.
Project organizer Mercedez Haywood, ’21, said she was inspired to develop the initiatives in response to the nationwide movement against racism and for social justice.
"It is important as future healthcare providers that we support people who are from different backgrounds, and it is important to serve the community that houses our program,” said Haywood.
Professor of Biological Sciences and Pre-Health Program Director Karthik Aghoram sees the student initiative as part of the College’s commitment to anti-racism.
“As the director (and head cheerleader) of the program, I want to be sure their efforts are recognized as evidence of our school's commitment to social justice,” said Aghoram.
Haywood has a passion for helping at-risk populations. She was formerly a fellow with MedServe, an organization that focuses on underserved communities.
“I know how many obstacles patients have to overcome just to receive healthcare, such as taking time away from work and paying for gas and lining up transportation to get to their appointments.”
The student-led initiative focuses on three local clinics where Meredith students volunteer as part of their pre-health certificate program. Every pre-health student completes at least 100 volunteer hours, choosing from numerous opportunities including hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and counseling centers.
For Urban Ministries of Wake County, the students are writing letters of affirmation that are being given to patients with their food pantry distributions. Haywood said the clinic serves underrepresented and underserved communities who have been hit especially hard by the effects of the pandemic. To support the Alliance Medical Ministry, students are volunteering in the community garden, which provides uninsured and underinsured patients with more than 2,000 pounds of fresh produce each year. And for clients of the Neighbor Health Center, students are providing COVID-19 resources for patients to help them feel more comfortable about being tested.
Additional efforts for all clinics include providing donation boxes of essential items such as deodorant, soap, toothbrushes and more to individuals who have lost their jobs as a result of COVID, and holding a fundraiser to support the clinics financially.
Haywood said it was important to her that the projects be available to her entire pre-health cohort. Over 75% of pre-health students are participating in some way.
The service projects also provide an opportunity to engage with other students in their cohort. After participating in the garden workday at Alliance Medical Ministry Garden, Haywood said “I had so much fun and this was the first time we met face to face because of Covid.”
Cynthia Correa, ’21, was excited to get involved. Previously, she volunteered at a clinic in Wilmington, N.C., as a Spanish-English interpreter, and had patients tell her the relief they felt once they saw their needs were being met.
“Being Hispanic, I have seen firsthand the gaps within our healthcare system in terms of access because of lack of proper documentation, lack of transportation, or even language barriers between patients and doctors,” she said. “When Mercedez introduced this project to the cohort, I wanted to contribute what I can because it is a big reason why I want to go into healthcare.”
Correa, who plans to attend medical school and eventually go into pediatrics, said she is pleased with the engagement by the other students.
“I am really excited about everyone’s enthusiasm for this project, especially when COVID is still playing a huge role in our everyday lives,” she said. “I know we can have a great impact on these clinics and the community that depends on them.”
Meredith’s pre-health post-baccalaureate certificate is the only program of its kind in the Triangle area. Developed for women and men with a bachelor’s degree, the pre-health program allows students to design a curriculum that is appropriate for the healthcare field they are pursuing. In addition to the individualized curriculum, the program includes shadowing and clinical experiences, personalized advising, and MCAT study sessions for students who plan to apply to medical school. The program has over a 90% acceptance rate to health professional schools.