Forty first-year medical students picked tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, cleared and raked foliage, cut back overgrown brush and even laid down a wall as part of their orientation to Tuscaloosa and to The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences on Thursday, July 28, 2016.
The students are part of a class of 186 at the University of Alabama School of Medicine. After they complete their two years of education at the School of Medicine’s main campus in Birmingham, these students will return to the College for their third and fourth years of clinical education. One of the College’s functions is to serve as the Tuscaloosa Regional Campus for the School of Medicine.
As part of their orientation, the students spent the morning working at the newly-established Jeremiah’s Community Garden in Tuscaloosa. The community service was followed by lunch with CCHS faculty and tours of University Medical Center, which is a multispecialty practice operated by the College and a clinical education site for students.
The garden, started four months ago by Holy Spirit Catholic Church, has donated about 3,000 pounds of fresh vegetables to the West Alabama Food Bank and Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center since harvesting began about two months ago, says Roy Lofton, who, with his wife Bettye, has spearheaded the development of the garden.
Allison Montgomery, a second-year medical student who helped lead first-year students in the community service, says she is glad the day allows students to connect to the community, understand its needs and learn about ways to serve.
“You can just lose your focus and get caught up in the stress of applying, taking tests and getting into medical school,” she says. “Now that we’re in and we’re here, we need to refocus on why we’re studying medicine in the first place.”
Dr. Harriet Myers, assistant dean for medical education, told the students at their lunch with faculty that working in the garden was about building understanding.
“We are hopeful that each of you can maintain the broader perspective that is really demanded today in health care,” she said. “If this morning you were able to help get fresh fruits and vegetables to those who needed it—to those who might not be able to get to a supermarket—you are keeping that broad perspective.”
Lofton says the medical students made a great impact in the garden, but there is plenty more work to be done, and volunteers are always welcome.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the young people who came out here today,” he says. “I look forward to welcoming them back any time.”