Some University at Buffalo medical students are spending their spring break this week learning about impoverished sections of the City of Buffalo. The Buffalo Community Immersion Program is sponsored by the UB Center for Medical Humanities. WBFO's Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley joined nearly a dozen students as they conducted a walking tour of an east side community.
“People think that it is a bad place and even the people who live in it think it’s a bad place,” explained Dr. Henry Taylor, UB Professor of Urban and Regiona Planning.
Taylor led the first year medical students on a walk around an east side block. It started on Fillmore Avenue and headed down Urban Street. He pointed out blight – from broken sidewalks, decaying homes, burned out property and debris.
“And that they have a powerful effect on the health outcomes of folks,” declared Taylor.
Taylor described the conditions within the African-American neighborhood, blaming long-time government decisions for much of the blight.
The tour is designed to provide a better understanding of real life issues students will encounter when they begin working directly with patients in their third year during clinical rotations.
“These conditions exist because a political decision has been made that this is okay, that this is right,” remarked Taylor.
The students began their lecture at Hopewell Baptist Church on Fillmore Avenue listening first to some parishioners who live in the neighborhood.
“I just wanted to come to just give a different perspective because looks are deceiving,” said Cheneta Oldhom of Buffalo as she joined the tour. She is with the church.
Oldhom is hopeful this lesson for these future doctors will teach them to be sensitive to someone’s social and economic background.
“Until you really live in a broken home or no water, no light, windows broken – afraid of being robbed or God knows what. It’s hard to explain,” replied Oldhom.
“I don’t think it is anything you can just learn in an academic setting,” said Emily Zhou of Williamsviile. Zhou is a first year medical student at UB and she reacted to the tour.
“I never really experienced this side of the city and I actually didn’t know too much about downtown in general, so it was just like a really great experience because you – I guess you learn about things in an academic setting and it’s very different when you are in a community and you get to hear peoples experiences and you know it will definitely affect how you practice medicine,” responded Zhou.
UB's Dr. Linda Pessar is Director of the Center for Medical Humanities.
“We talk in the medical school about cultural competence and the necessity of understanding our patients, not only their cultural and social beliefs, but really their day-to-day lives and experiences,” noted Pessar.
Pessar explained the importance bringing medical students out of the classroom in the first year to teach them the human side of life.
“Their distrust about physicians and about the medical establishment. They distrust our prescriptions that they go on the internet and look at side effects. Every drug has terrible side effects. The frequency is very rare,” remarked Pessar.
The week-long program continues Wednesday. Students will visit with the Yemeni community in Lackawanna and speak with Yemeni women about health care.
“We will speak to them about their experiences with physicians in Yemen and in the United States and issues, for example, their discomfort seeing male physicians,” explained Pessar.
Students will also visit a Mosque and then tour one of the city's poorest white communities in the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood.