August 18, 2021—(BRONX, NY)—Six current and former medical students at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have won a national leadership award for a new community project aimed at educating Bronx residents and fellow students about the importance of vaccines for various diseases, including COVID-19, influenza, and pneumonia.
The grant from Alpha Omega Alpha (AΩA), the national medical honor society that promotes leadership, community service, and professionalism, will support the establishment of the student-created Einstein Community Corps Program to execute the new initiative. Einstein is one of only four schools to receive the three-year, $9,000 Medical Student Service Leadership Project grant, which will be doubled through a match from Einstein’s institutional funds.
“It’s a privilege to be given this opportunity to promote health and advocate for members of our community,” said April Sosa, a fourth-year student and co-leader of the project. “As a future physician, it’s my hope that I will not only be able to help my patients on an individual basis but address our public health concerns on a larger scale.”
Combatting Vaccine Reluctance
The new program has its roots in the thousands of volunteer hours Einstein students logged during the COVID-19 pandemic. As vaccines became available for healthcare workers and the community earlier this year, scores of Einstein students with at least one year of clinical experience underwent training to learn how to administer shots. Others served as patient navigators for Montefiore Health System’s vaccine campaign. Einstein ran an elective on vaccine administration from February to July that included a requirement to complete 10 shifts as vaccinators in Montefiore’s vaccine clinics, alongside nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers, within a four-week period. They also had to write reflections and participate in a virtual debriefing session to discuss their experience.
Anna Bitners, M.D., Rachel Weinstock, M.D., and Bryan Szeglin, M.D., who graduated from Einstein this year and who led many of Einstein’s volunteer initiatives during the pandemic, were among the students who applied in the spring for the AΩA grant. The others were Ms. Sosa, Taneisha Sinclair, now a fourth-year student, and Brett Bell, a current fourth-year M.D./Ph.D. student.
“It became apparent that vaccine hesitancy in the Bronx population was an issue that warranted special attention,” said Mr. Bell, a project co-leader. “We recognized the importance of helping students develop skills to better understand where people are coming from and to help them make their own choices in support of their health.”
It’s a privilege to be given this opportunity to promote health and advocate for members of our community.
April Sosa, fourth-year medical student
Ms. Sinclair recalled a satisfying patient encounter during her family medicine rotation earlier this year, and noted that the importance of one-to-one, open communication with people who may be leery of vaccines. “I asked the patient about her specific concerns about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Ms. Sinclair, another co-leader. “I told her about my own experience and why I got the vaccine. I was honest with her and advised that she could talk to my preceptor during her appointment. I found out later that she asked how to make an appointment, and she eventually got the vaccine. I was so happy—I tweeted about how it made braving a snowstorm that day worth it.”
Community Corps in Action
In the coming months, students will interview patients, physicians, and community leaders to understand vaccine disparities and patient perspectives on vaccines for several diseases, including COVID-19, influenza, Hepatitis A and B, and pneumonia. Following the collection of data generated from the interviews, the students will work with faculty to design a medical curriculum to educate first- and second-year students about vaccine disparities in the Bronx and beyond and promote ways to engage patients in conversations that address their concerns. The curriculum will include lectures, small-group case discussions, and role-playing exercises.
The students also plan to create a public health campaign, provide educational materials for community residents, and develop a website and a social media account to share updates and news. Following the project’s early phases, students will begin using the tools and information from the curriculum to discuss vaccines and health directly with patients. Students also will evaluate the program as it rolls out, completing surveys about how their skills were developed through the curriculum and comparing local vaccination rates before and after the program.
“This program is a great example of how Einstein students lead, drive initiatives, and serve and engage with our local community,” said Joshua Nosanchuk, M.D., senior associate dean of medical education and professor of medicine and of microbiology & immunology. “They are creating solutions to address important health disparities, share their knowledge and enthusiasm with their peers, and build trust with our Bronx residents.”
The students are mentored by Nadine Katz, M.D., professor of obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health and medical director of Montefiore’s Weiler Hospital, Oladimeji Oki, M.D., assistant professor and assistant clerkship director of family and social medicine, Alicia Martinez, Ed.D., M.S.O.L. program manager for community based service learning, and Heather Archer-Dyer, M.P.H., assistant professor of family & social medicine and director of community outreach.