TeamWoRx 2006:
Bonding Through Community Service

BY CHRISTINE HSIEH
ON A SUNNY AFTERNOON IN JUNE, MEMBERS OF THE CLASS OF 2008 fanned out across Washington Heights for TeamWoRx, the team-building event that traditionally marks the start of medical students’ major clinical year. The aim of this year’s TeamWoRx exercise remained the same as in previous years — to foster camaraderie and cooperation within clinical rotation groups — but for the first time the event afforded students a chance to interact with members of the community in a nonmedical context.
Students in the park A student reading to children
   TeamWoRx kicked off a week full of activities to celebrate the students’ achievements so far and to prepare them for a markedly different learning experience in their third year of medical school. Transition Week, hosted by the P&S Club and the Transition Committee, brought the class together for five full days of skill building and orientation to address the specific responsibilities of third year, including admitting and taking care of patients, working with hospital staff, drawing blood, reading EKGs, and learning more about professionalism. The week culminated in a ceremony that recognized the students’ formal entry into clinical care.
A group of students digging
   Although the students have developed familiarity with each other by seeing the same 150 faces in classes for two years, working closely in groups of 15 through the first hectic weeks of the clinical year is a different experience. TeamWoRx is designed to make the transition from individually focused learning to a collaborative effort in a clinical setting less intimidating. “There is a shift in how we interact with our classmates in third year, so we wanted people to meet each other and work together on a small task to break the ice,” explains Bonnie Koo’08, who helped organize TeamWoRx with fellow P&S Club representative Jason Sulkowski’08. “Our transition into the clinical year is really a paradigm shift, where our days will be spent in the service of others in contrast to the past two years, which have been primarily academic in scope.”
   “The rotation groups stay together during the entire third year,” says Lisa Mellman, M.D., senior associate dean for student affairs, “so it is important that the individuals within each group work well together.”
   Instead of strengthening bonds with each other through TeamWoRx athletic events, as in past years, the Class of 2008 tested their skills and commitment by serving the people they might treat during rotations through hospitals and clinics. “We wanted our rotation groups to get to know each other beforehand,” says Mr. Sulkowski, “but we thought it was equally important to have a community focus and interact with members of the community now rather than first in a patient care setting.”
Two students painting the wall A student painting shelves
   Ms. Koo and Mr. Sulkowski approached community organizations and arranged afternoon sessions for each clinical group modeled after the service-learning projects developed by Dr. Dodi Meyer and Milagros Batista for pediatrics residents. Service-learning is a structured learning experience that balances community service with educational objectives, providing reciprocal benefits.
Equipped with disposable cameras, the students documented their community service-learning projects.
   Some groups of students put their creative skills to use by painting a mural at La Plaza Beacon School; others rolled up their sleeves to paint the homes of domestic violence victims and child welfare families. Two groups contributed their time to park restoration at the historic Highbridge Park; two others read books to children at the Alianza Dominicana day care center as part of the Reach Out & Read program. Marcel Green, one of the students participating in the project at the day care center, also served as a human climbing tree. “Having all the children in my group literally ambush me for my attention was probably the best part of the experience,” he recalls. “I’m glad we're integrating this into our curriculum — expanding beyond textbook stuff and getting in touch with our community. Despite language and cultural differences, the people of the Washington Heights community are just like me. I’m always humbled to see and relearn this.”
Students and senior citizens dancing
    Some students took dancing lessons with senior citizens at the ARC Fort Washington Senior Center and the Church on the Hill Senior Center. At ARC, Nelson Peralta, project coordinator for Columbia’s Center for the Health of Urban Minorities, met with the students to talk about the people who frequent the center and the challenges they face as seniors in Manhattan. Cake and refreshments helped draw a crowd of seniors, and the braver ones got up for a quick boogie. “It was nice to see that they are just like us — nervous!” says Ms. Koo, who picked up some mambo and salsa skills in the session at ARC.
   Each group, equipped with disposable cameras, documented the service project and shared photos at the class dinner during Transition Week.
   Participating in TeamWoRx allowed the students to learn more about the community they’ll serve, but it was also a chance to unwind after arduous months spent studying for board exams. Emily Shin relished the chance to see her classmates outside the lecture hall. “It was a great excuse to catch up and to spend time with people post boards,” she says. “I learned that my rotation group is awesome!” 


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