Before slipping into white coats, KU medical students get their hands dirty

July 27, 2012

By David Martin

First-year students Amanda Jobe, Bridget Kennedy and Emily Mitchell (left to right) spruced up a community garden.

Decked in KU blue and girded with shovels and rakes, a group of first-year School of Medicine students swarmed a community garden one day before they were officially welcomed into the medical profession.

First-year students spend half a day during orientation performing community service projects at sites around Kansas City, Kan. While one group of students toiled at the community garden, others painted the walls of a community center, sorted goods donated to a mental health agency and set fence posts at a Boy Scouts camp.

"M-1 Day," at it's known, is in its 10th year. The service projects expose the students to the community in which they will begin their medical education.

The projects also allow students to interact informally. At the garden, site leader Brandon Hidaka, a fourth-year medical student and second-year graduate student, discussed cancer research with fellow M.D.-Ph.D. student Eric Young as they plunged their spades into the ground.

More than 20 students went to the garden, which occupies a vacant lot between two houses, near the intersection of 18th and Quindaro Boulevard. The garden, Healthy Sprouts, is designed to give children the opportunity to interact with nature. The medical students weeded, pruned and raked wearing "We are KU" T-shirts.

A regular volunteer at the garden was impressed by the students' eagerness to get their dirt on their hands. "The students came willing to work," said Olliea Jarrett, an environmental health specialist at the Unified Government of Wyandotte County. "They started working as soon as they got out of their cars."

The first-year students volunteered at nine different locations around Kansas City. Atieh Jibbe said she chose Healthy Sprouts because she felt that she and her new colleagues would be able to leave a mark during their time there. "I liked the idea of working outdoors and making a noticeable difference," she said.

Much of first-year orientation is spent in auditoriums. The community service projects provide a welcome break from the routine. Only the white coat ceremony receives more favorable ratings in the surveys students fill out at the end of the week. "They value the opportunity to get out and do things together," Sandy McCurdy, associate dean for admissions, said.

First-year students at the campuses in Salina and Wichita also worked in their respective communities before the July 27 white coat ceremony. Salina students volunteered at an adult daycare center and a childcare center. Wichita students worked at two Habitat for Humanity development sites.

Community organizations appreciate the students' efforts. One group volunteered at a farm maintained by Cultivate Kansas City, an urban agriculture nonprofit. Ami Freeberg, Cultivate Kansas City project assistant, wanted the students to help harvest tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer squash, cucumbers and okra. The food is sold at a farmer's market.

Freeberg said the hot, dry summer was taking a toll on the crops, especially the kale. "It's not growing very fast," she said, "but it's not dead yet."

Last modified: Aug 20, 2012