P&S Journal: Winter 1997, Vol.17, No.1
P&S Students: 'Home Away From Home'
By Kristen Watson
"There's no place like home" is probably the most common thought among new P&S students during their first few weeks in Washington Heights. But, despite butterflies in their stomachs caused by the anticipation of the new challenges that medical school will put before them, they must make the transition while adjusting to new living arrangements, registering for classes, and finding their way around a new campus and community.
Thanks to the P&S Alumni Association's Home Away From Home Program, developed in 1991, first-year P&S students have a place to go and someone to turn to when they feel lonely or stressed out. Student participants are matched with New York City alumni, based on common interests determined through a questionnaire. Kathy Couchells, director of alumni relations, says interests in similar fields of medicine or research, shared hobbies, or the same hometown or alma mater tend to be the best foundations for matches.
Greg Abel was matched with Paul Cushman'55 because they share interests in poetry, dance, and theater. Mr. Abel, originally from New York, was more interested in meeting alumni to learn more about career choices than he was in finding a surrogate family. Mr. Abel also wants to learn how physicians maintain their perspective in dealing with the ever-changing health care system and how P&S has changed since alumni were students. Through the program he has found someone who will take time to share views and experience.
During orientation, new students usually go to their "Home Away From Home" and meet their alumni family over dinner, but meetings are not limited to the home. Other more creative meeting places have included a Mets game, the Metropolitan Opera, a museum, and an apple orchard. In recent years, some alumni have invited their adopted students to join them for a day in the office, the ER, and the OR, while others have gone fishing, sailing, golfing, and rollerblading with students.
"With us, it all revolves around food--with a capital F!" says Valerie Jones. Ms. Jones is speaking of Judith Sulzberger'49, writer-in-residence at P&S, who happens to be a gourmet cook. The two culinary connoisseurs met for the first time at Rain, a Thai restaurant, where they enjoyed good food, wine, and extensive conversation.
Dr. Sulzberger also has participated in past years. "I enjoy it," she says. "It's a chance to meet some wonderful young people. Many of these kids are far away from home and it's hard for them to get back there."
Originally from Nova Scotia, Ms. Jones finds it hard to make it home often, so Dr. Sulzberger has provided a solution: "She's my official New York mom," Ms. Jones says. "She's adopted me." The two plan to meet once a month and continue to explore what New York's restaurants have to offer.
Mr. Abel has recommended the program to other first-year students. "It's a nice way to gain perspectives and meet someone else who has been through med school," he says, even when coordinating busy schedules is challenging.
"It's neat to be able to get to know an alum, particularly a female P&S grad, and to find out what her life has been like since P&S," Ms. Jones says. "We have an appointment to try out another restaurant this week. I can't wait!" she says.
The program not only has helped first-year students make a smoother transition into medical school, but also has fostered stronger ties between older and younger generations of P&S students.
The program had more than 100 participants in its first year, and has maintained an average of close to 75 since. When asked if she would recommend the program to first-year students next year, Ms. Jones answers, "Are you kidding? They'd be crazy to turn this down!"
Photograph by Howard Roberts