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Learn the value of service learning in medicine: Meet Niki Messmore, MS

Messmore with a tree

Niki Messmore, MS, is the program director of community and civic engagement at Indiana University School of Medicine. Recognized nationally for her service leadership, Messmore works alongside students, faculty, staff, and community members to provide service learning and volunteer opportunities for medical students. Messmore—an IU alum—also provides general support for student life programs such as Medical Student Council (MSC). Throughout it all, Messmore says her goal is to provide educational opportunities that empower and engage students in their communities. 

Tell us a little bit about you and your background.

I’m a first-generation college student who was once told I couldn’t go to college “because your parents don’t have any money.” Both of my parents were disabled and we survived because of Social Security Disability, Medicaid, and other social services. Due to this, I’ve experienced or borne witness to a bevy of social issues experienced by millions in our country. As a result, these experiences developed my passion to help students learn—and to learn from students—on the topic of social issues.

In your words, what is service learning and how do you measure its success or impact?

Service learning is rooted in academic learning. It provides a hands-on opportunity to engage alongside communities to address social issues. Quality service programs include mutually beneficial partnerships with community organizations, cultural humility, critical examination of power and privilege and so much more. These projects are successful when the communities we work with are central in their development and students walk away from the project with a deeper understanding of the social issue and how what they learned connects to their academics.

Why do you care about service learning (and why should students)?

In order to become excellent patient-centered health professionals, students must engage with different communities. This helps students better understand diverse cultures and experiences in health care. Service learning is an avenue to work alongside different communities and learn with them. Medical students who engage in service learning will improve their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, ability to creatively problem-solve, and will gain new understandings of different identities and experiences.

How can students get involved in service learning?

Class of 2023 students can apply for our summer alternative break trip to Flint and attend the day of service during orientation. Multiple service project groups will be at the day of service to discuss opportunities. Current students can also visit the MedNet Service Learning pages or email the Medical Student Service Group to learn more.

What do you like best about working with service learning at IU School of Medicine?

I love supporting student leaders develop their service projects! Our students are passionate about addressing social issues, ranging from geriatric care to global health projects. With this in mind, I want students to know my office door is open to them. You are the best part of my job!

What are your goals for service learning with IU School of Medicine?

My background includes working as a nonprofit administrator and years in service learning programs. I fuse these experiences together in order to support the development of quality school-community partnerships. For the past five years, I’ve focused exclusively on research and working in service learning, and my goals include:

  • Teaching students about fair trade learning, critical service learning theory, and other critical theories such as critical race theory and critical disability studies in order to ensure our service programs have a strong foundation of quality and ethics.
  • Create a domestic alternative breaks program that provides an affordable option for students who desire immersive opportunities to work alongside communities across the country.
  • Develop a nationally-recognized set of service learning and volunteer programs among United States medical schools.

Outside of work, what are your hobbies and interests?

I love being with my family, especially lazy days in bed with Loki, the most cuddly black cat of them all. I’m definitely a geek who can talk a range of pop culture topics. From JRR Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion” to Brooklyn Nine Nine (the NINE NINE!). I love to read and write (fiction and nerd academic research). Traveling is one of my favorite things. I love to visit parks to hike/hug trees. I’m a total foodie, so if you need recommendations for something tasty in Indianapolis, I am your girl!

What else would you like IU School of Medicine faculty, staff and students to know about you?

One of my favorite quotes is “El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido” (“the people united will never be defeated”) because I believe that collective community work only makes us stronger. (quote source: political movements in Chile)

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

IU School of Medicine

With more than 60 academic departments and specialty divisions across nine campuses and strong clinical partnerships with Indiana’s most advanced hospitals and physician networks, Indiana University School of Medicine is continuously advancing its mission to prepare healers and transform health in Indiana and throughout the world.