November 9, 2023

Student-led Community Health Nights go live at nonprofit partner Brilliant Detroit

The Wayne State University School of Medicine has partnered with a local physician and area nonprofit Brilliant Detroit to host Community Health Nights, a new initiative within the WSU medical students’ Community Engagement Elective, which is offered in Segments 1 and 2 of the medical school curriculum. 

A medical student shares with a resident the impact of smoking on lungs.

The Community Health Nights idea was started by Trinity Health surgeon Richard Keidan, M.D., in Nepal several years ago. He later founded the Detroit2Nepal Foundation to open schools, medical clinics, birthing centers and more in that country. Two years later, he started partnering with Detroit-based nonprofits, including the Say Detroit Family Clinic, to provide residents access and assistance to health care. He approached School of Medicine Associate Professor Emeritus Jennifer Mendez, Ph.D., about starting an academic community partnership with WSU.

“Our goals of the partnership are to provide health care education, address all the social determinants of health and provide assistance to individuals in Detroit neighborhoods as they access resources,” Dr. Keidan said. “At the same time, we want to provide an opportunity to the WSU students that will complement their school curriculum and help them grow as they engage with individuals in underserved communities.”

The Community Engagement Elective at WSU lends several similar opportunities to students. They include preparing materials to discuss pertinent health topics of interest to community members, such as respiratory health, environmental health and maternal health, as well as guide discussions and answer questions community members have at various community-based events.

Second-year medical student Carly Abrahams, along with classmate Farah Yusuf, is one of the students participating in the elective.

“Working with the community and in outreach has undoubtedly positively contributed to my medical education here at Wayne State University. There is no better way to understand what this community needs and what experiences community members have faced previously than by directly engaging with them,” Abrahams said. “I have learned so much from our important discussions, and hope that each time we engage in Community Health Nights that we are empowering community members and giving them the knowledge and information to take action for their health and their loved ones’ health.” 

School of Medicine students join community physicians at the first Community Health Night at a Brilliant Detroit home.

Brilliant Detroit is a nonprofit dedicated to building successful neighborhoods where families with children up to eight years old are school-ready, healthy and supported through programming hosted at Brilliant Detroit-owned homes in high-need neighborhoods in the city. WSU medical students have volunteered at the charity’s various homes, called hubs, for several years.

The first Community Health Night was held last month at the Brilliant Detroit Osborn Hub, where students discussed respiratory health and the impacts of smoking on the lungs. The community members were able to see and feel a healthy pair of lungs versus a smoker’s lungs to observe the negative impact that cigarette smoke has on the human body and anatomy, Abrahams shared.

Reproductive health was the topic of the evening at another event held earlier this month, at Brilliant Detroit’s Cody Rouge/Warrendale hub.

Students like Abrahams encourage community members to take agency of their own health through student-led materials that include information on what they’re entitled to as patients, and what to expect in the health care setting.

“I have learned the importance in discussing what the community finds important, not what I find important,” she added. “I am there to build trust and provide information on the topics they take interest in, as opposed to having a personal agenda that I aim to teach. The community members have also taught me so much of their unique perspectives and struggles, allowing me to understand their point of view and areas in which medical professionals and medical students may help. Ultimately, my experience has been so impactful, and I look forward to continuing this work.”

Community Health Nights at Brilliant Detroit will continue twice monthly at the two sites, and WSU students will also develop site-specific resource manuals that will address health care and the social determinants of health to be a valuable tool as resources become more accessible, Keidan said.

They hope to broaden the Community Health Nights series to 24 sites within the next five years.

“The Detroit2Nepal partnership with WSU has been developing through the years. We have done grassroots Detroit neighborhood projects together for many years, including medical students, social work students and public heath students,” Dr. Keidan said. “Dr. Jennifer Mendez was our WSU point person for this particular project and has been amazing.”

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