This past April, I became a teacher for one month.
Through the fourth-year Leadership in Medicine course, with much dedication from my compassionate classmates and the IU School of Medicine Service Learning Office, a pilot clerkship focused on teaching students at an inner-city charter school was created. Our efforts culminated in the creation of a spring semester health education elective for Indianapolis Metropolitan High School students interested in pursuing a healthcare career. IU School of Medicine students would rotate through our pilot clerkship, teaching high school students about anything from nutrition to basic pharmacology.
On my first day of teaching at “Indy Met,” I pulled up a slideshow. I introduced myself and mapped out how I had come to pursue service to others as a family medicine physician. One of the slides included a galore of photographs-pictures of all of the mentors to whom I could attribute my impending medical school graduation. One of them, shown above, is a very special picture of Rebecca Haak, MD, holding me after delivery. Twenty-five years later, I consider her to be a mentor, friend, and one of the reasons I chose to become a doctor.
The point of such a presentation was to, in short, make myself known, so that students would feel more comfortable sharing about themselves. Each day, we would go around the room, and everyone would say their name and a fun fact.
Most of my teaching was focused on substance abuse.
The students had plenty of questions and commentary on the subject. It quickly became apparent to me that the information I had been dispensing, in a classroom composed of children as young as 14 years old, was not a series of abstractions. When mentioning what to do if encountering someone with a heroin overdose, students responded with commentary demonstrating personal witness to such scenarios.
As the month of teaching progressed, my heart broke more and more for the high schoolers. In the last few minutes of class, I would try to get to know the them personally. Many spoke openly of hardships-violence, broken families, and poverty. Many, also, spoke with kindness and sincere curiosity as they tried to get to know me. I grew in awe of the warmth I received as I learned of the students’ cold daily realities. As class sizes waxed and waned each day, I grew in respect for the students whose attendance did not falter, and for those who engaged in the classroom.
One of the more attention-grabbing classes was about marijuana. Students shared candidly about exposures to this drug, and many disbelieved teaching about potential harms to the adolescent brain. One student can be quoted as saying, “I smoke pot every day, and I’m doing great.” A truth garnered from my own life experience came to the surface: people need to feel loved before they will make choices that reflect self-care.
Education is valuable.
But, it became clear that much of what I had been teaching would leave little impact if the children did not understand that they ‘mattered.’ If my parents, coaches, youth pastors, and mentors had not pointed out both my present worth and future potential, I certainly would not have dreamed of starting or finishing medical school. I wanted this same privilege of reassurance for my one-month only students in both their personal and professional lives.
I vividly remember crying in my car after hearing my third “Will you be my mentor?” inquiry from a student. I would be leaving Indianapolis soon, and could not say yes. This set into motion a series of meetings with the goal of recruiting student-mentors from IU School of Medicine for the following school year. Those conversations are ongoing.
It is my hope that IU School of Medicine students will eagerly extend a helping hand in this new elective next year and would consider mentoring someone in the community. You can volunteer through a variety of organizations here in Indy. But (and I am a little biased), I am confident that your talents and free time would be used well, and that your heart would be softened and encouraged by becoming involved with Indy Met students.
If you are an IUSM student and would be interested in serving as a mentor this upcoming year, please email me at email@example.com.