Med Students Surprise Fifth Graders with Stethoscopes

Posted in GUMC Stories

JANUARY 9, 2015—Jennifer Clark (M’18) remembers clearly the day she received her first stethoscope as an incoming medical student.

It was the White Coat Ceremony (new window), a rite of passage for all first-year Georgetown medical students when they are cloaked in their medical coats, recite the Hippocratic Oath for the first time and receive the “Harvey” stethoscope, so-named for Proctor Harvey, MD. The late cardiologist and legendary Georgetown professor, renowned for his ability to diagnose complex cardiac problems by listening through his stethoscope to a patient’s heart rhythms, taught the importance of the device in listening to patients.

The moment came back to Clark as she and her classmates surprised a group of 44 visiting fifth graders from Moten Elementary School (new window) with their own stethoscopes during the elementary school students’ visit to Georgetown University Medical Center on Jan. 7.  

“When we got our stethoscopes at the beginning of school I nearly cried—it was so emotional,” Clark recalls. “I had wanted to be a doctor for a really long time. All of a sudden, it was real.”

She hopes giving stethoscopes to the fifth-graders will leave its own impression, and nurture a love of science or medicine in those with an interest. Moten Elementary is located in Anacostia in southeast DC.  The main high school that serves that area, Anacostia High School, has a graduation rate of just 43 percent, according to its website. 

Shaping Young Minds

The visit was the culmination of a semester-long service-learning course (new window) carried out by the first-year medical students under the auspices of the Department of Family Medicine (new window). For the past four months, 20 medical students visited with two fifth-grade classes at Moten and conducted mini-medical school classes—learning through trial and error how to connect with the young students through science.

Guided by faculty team leader Wendy Jones, MED, MSW (new window), director of the Children & Youth With Special Health Care Needs Project and research instructor at Georgetown University’s Center for Child and Human Development (new window), they taught the children nutrition, wellness, basic anatomy and other aspects of health.

With the support of School of Medicine leadership and her fellow students, Clark researched, tested and ordered the stethoscopes they would give to the young students as a final surprise gift, along with their certificates of completion of their mini-med course.

Forging Deep Bonds

Donna D. Cameron, PhD, MPH (new window), associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and director of the service-learning course, says this project has helped the medical students learn to translate complex concepts into language that fifth graders can understand, build awareness of resource disparities among neighborhoods and schools, and prepare to identify and serve medical needs in the community.

“We encourage students to see the course as a way to develop teamwork and professionalism, increase and improve self-reflection skills, and become aware of non-biological systems and factors that affect and shape the health of participants at the community sites,” Cameron says.

“Every year a number of students write in their final essays that the community participants end up having a much bigger impact on them than they think they had on the community participants,” she adds.

As for the fifth graders, Cameron says they have “mega fun” with the medical students, and benefit from having role models who will teach them about their bodies.

Emily Peltzman is site coordinator at Moten Elementary for Communities in Schools (new window), the organization that facilitates the partnership between Georgetown and Moten.

“A lot of our students don’t have any idea what it takes to be a doctor, so for them to see students who have gone on to get their medical degree is huge. It’s not just the science curriculum that they gain from it; it’s learning there is more to life past high school,” Peltzman says.

Fifth-grader Najae Potts was excited about her new stethoscope.

“I like it because I get to listen to people’s hearts, and sometimes their hearts will tell you how they really feel,” she said.

While she is interested in medicine, can she handle the difficult coursework necessary to become a doctor or nurse? 

Definitely, she says. “I am a very smart student.”

By Lauren Wolkoff
GUMC Communications