This student-authored post is published by CPR in partnership with Medill News Service and the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views, policies, or positions of CPR or CDC.
Students in Dr. Abdullah Hasan Pratt’s emergency preparedness program have seen friends and family die. They’ve been in positions to help others during health emergencies but didn’t know how.
Pratt is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Chicago. He started the Medical Careers Exposure and Emergency Preparedness program in 2018. His purpose is to address health disparities in some of Chicago’s most underserved communities.
The South Side communities that neighbor the University of Chicago campus rank among the highest in the city for heart disease, strokes, and incidents of gun violence.(1) Pratt said the program teaches teens who live in those areas the practical skills they need to stay calm and respond in a medical emergency.
“Emergency preparedness skills help empower them to do something, to act, to be a leader when these situations happen,” Pratt said. The seven-week summer program comes at no cost to the students. Each session includes a lecture, followed by a practical component that puts the students’ new skills to the test. Weekly topics vary and include first aid, clinical skills, doctor-patient interaction, and medical career advice.
Samantha Morris is a rising second-year medical student from New Orleans. She said the opportunity to engage with local communities in Chicago was a reason that she got involved with the program.
“I love teaching and enjoy interacting with students,” said Morris, after showing two of the program’s participants how to take a blood pressure reading. She said the practical sessions help students gain confidence in their skills.
The program includes a medical careers exposure component. Pratt said it aims to address the disparities within healthcare professions in the community. “There’s a paucity of young doctors that actually come from the community that they advocate for,” he said.
Pratt explains the driving forces behind the program are the medical school and community volunteers. They come from similar neighborhoods in Chicago and across the U.S.
“How often do you get someone who’s first generation? How often do you get someone who comes from Roseland or Englewood? How often do you get someone who’s lost a brother and four of their closest best friends to gun violence?” he said.
Having volunteers and medical professionals that can relate to the students personally helps the program succeed.
“I think that’s why you don’t see as many of these programs,” Pratt said. “Because it takes an intimate knowledge of the problems almost to the point where you’ve suffered. You’ve been traumatized, you are no different than your patients, no different than these students. I don’t see them as any different than me.”
The program works to foster long-term relationships and mentorship that encourages participants to give back to the community throughout their careers.
“And that’s what I want for them. I want them to look up one day and say, ‘That’s my big sister, and now they’re a young doctor or nurse practitioner, and they can now collaborate on things,’ but it’s been built for years, that relationship,” Pratt said.
It’s not just the program participants who benefit from the mentorship. The volunteers, all of whom are at different stages of their medical careers, are mentees to the students and each other. Pratt sees the benefits of mentorship first-hand. “We’re continuing to guide them in their careers,” he said. “They’re meeting people who are going to help them become better applicants, better candidates to get into the schools or the professions that they choose.”
Nycholle Warne is a certified nursing assistant who joined the program as a volunteer to give back to the community. She said if a program like this had been available to her in high school, she’d be further along in her career.
“The resources, support, and reaching out to people put you in the right direction,” Warne said. With Pratt’s guidance, she recently started working towards her master’s in nursing.
Pratt’s program prioritizes the students rather than overheads. Free use of university facilities and donated equipment help him keep the focus on preparing teens in disproportionately affected communities. Pratt would like to see the program replicated in cities across the U.S. He hopes that other communities with limited resources can create programs inspired by what they’ve built in Chicago.
“A dream of ours is that any student fresh off the streets can hear about what we do, go to our website, and be linked to the corresponding programs,” Pratt said. “My goal is to connect them with people who they can say ‘I’m her. I want to be him. I’m already him. He walked my shoes. He did it. I can do it.’”
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