Media Advisory: UB medical students head into the city to explore how social factors impact health care

A group of UB medical students sits in a circle and talks with Yemeni community leaders at a mosque in Lackawanna.

In last year's pilot program, UB medical students met with members of the Yemeni community at a mosque in Lackawanna. Photo: Douglas Levere

Clergy, community leaders and advocates will introduce students to some of the factors that shape patients’ lives

Release Date: November 29, 2016

Portrait of Linda Pessar.
“In order to forge a trusting relationship with patients, students need to have some understanding of the social, economic, psychological and cultural issues that shape them.”
Linda F. Pessar, MD, Director, UB Center for Medical Humanities
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- On Dec. 1, more than 150 first-year students from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo will put aside lab coats and textbooks and head into the heart of the city for the school’s first Humanities Day.

The goal is to expose students to the social and cultural issues they will encounter with patients throughout Western New York when they start clinical rotations in their third year.

“In order to forge a trusting relationship with patients, students need to have some understanding of the social, economic, psychological and cultural issues that shape them,” explained Linda F. Pessar, MD, director of the UB Center for Medical Humanities and professor emerita of psychiatry.

“Getting our first-year students off campus and into the city so that they are exposed to some of the challenges our patients face allows us to introduce them early in their professional development to the important goal of better understanding how our patients live,” she said. “This is a new opportunity, in addition to the others we provide, for our students to actively engage with the city.”

For press arrangements, contact Ellen Goldbaum at 645-4605 and on-site at 716-771-9255. On Thursday, Dec. 1, media are invited to:

·         Attend a Buffalo Public Schools English as a Second Language program. Medical students will speak with refugees about their experiences with health care in their home countries and in the U.S. at 8:30 a.m. at the Immigration and Refugee Assistance Program (IRAP) Education Center, 228 Albany St.

·         Tour the Martin Luther King Jr. neighborhood with Henry Louis Taylor, UB professor of urban and regional planning, and Pastor Dennis Lee at 8:30 a.m. at Hopewell Baptist Church, 1301 Fillmore Ave. After the tour, several students will experience shopping in a food desert.

·         Tour the Fruit Belt neighborhood with Pastor Kinzer Pointer at 10 a.m. at Promise Land Baptist Church, 237 High St.

Students will reconvene at the medical school on the UB South Campus for afternoon sessions in which they will discuss their experiences from the morning, with assistance from UB faculty and community leaders. In one session, refugee leaders will discuss folk beliefs from their cultures, factors that sometimes conflict with American medical practice. Other sessions will focus on social factors that impact health care and disparities, as well as a discussion of implicit bias in which works of art are used to challenge inherent assumptions and stereotypes.

“We hope that better understanding of cultural assumptions will aid our ability to form empathic relationships,” said Pessar.

The mandatory program originated with last year’s pilot program when 13 first-year students participated in community immersion activities.

“That experience was so beneficial and profound for students,” said Pessar. “They felt it really changed their understanding of medical practice and even, in some cases, made them rethink career plans about which specialties of medicine to pursue.”

Pessar explained that it caused students to realize that some of what they had been taught might not be applicable to certain patients. For example, students are generally taught that if an obese patient visits a primary care physician, the main issue to discuss is a treatment plan for obesity.

“But the students learned that if the patient is a single mother and she is working two jobs and has two small children, and the nearest supermarket is two bus rides away, then to start telling her about the risks of obesity and why she should eat better is unempathic and shaming,” said Pessar. “Somehow, there has to be a different kind of engagement.”

In one session, several students will experience firsthand what it’s like to shop in a food desert, an urban area where access to nutritional food is very limited. The experience includes shopping at a neighborhood convenience store.

UB medical students were able to choose from more than a dozen programs run by agencies that provide services throughout Buffalo, including Family Court, with which many patients in Buffalo must interact; the Family Justice Center, which provides free services for domestic violence victims, the Child Advocacy Center; the Jericho Road Community Health Center; Lakeshore Behavioral Health; the Arab-American Community Center for Economic and Social Services; Aspire of WNY, which serves individuals with disabilities; and the Western New York Center for Survivors of Torture.


Media Contact Information

Ellen Goldbaum
News Content Manager
Tel: 716-645-4605
Twitter: @UBmednews