A few weeks ago, Sam Harvey and six of his peers traveled to the South Lawndale community. Here, they met with a community representative at South Lawndale Christian Health Center, toured the facility, and learned about the neighborhood.
These first-year medical students then further explored the area, gathering information on local grocery stores, bars, and restaurants, and evaluated the state of schools, community centers, and parks. They continued to compile neighborhood information from online resources to create a “wiki page” – or digital database – on the health resources available to that population.
“We worked on exploring the different aspects of health in the community and spent time investigating the health infrastructure, researching facts such as demographics, community stressors, and centers for support,” Harvey said.
Part of the new curriculum, this community health assessment project aims to build a health resource database for Northwestern healthcare providers, which they can use to better understand their patients.
“I now know it takes a lot of energy to learn about someone’s health, and having an understanding about the state of the patient’s community, environment, and family life can add a broader perspective about their health issues,” said Harvey. “For example, coal factories used to be in South Lawndale, and as physicians we should think about how that might factor into the quality of health in that area.”
The South Lawndale group comprises one of the 21 teams of first-year students that Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine sent to gather community data. Over the next few years, the project aims to have health data from all 77 Chicago communities.
“As a medical student, it is easy to get focused on our studies and forget about the wider Chicago community. I think the project will stay in my mind as a reminder to think about the social framework and the cultural background that comes with a patient,” said Jason Chodakowski, also a member of the South Lawndale community group. “When you counsel a patient, it is easy to say, ‘Go eat more veggies.’ Having the understanding that the patient may only have access to a corner store that doesn’t have fresh fruits and vegetables is important.”
“I’ve learned so much about the different communities,” said Wurtz, director of the Master’s in Public Health Program. “It’s exciting to see that the students care so much about these neighborhoods, and that this project was meaningful to them. With this data they get a better picture of who their patients will be and where they come from.”