Learning by Helping

Supporting Community Action

Since Einstein's inception, its medical and graduate students have demonstrated a keen interest in making a positive impact on the Bronx. By establishing outreach groups, they have sought to address social justice and equity issues and have provided much-needed services in the borough, such as promoting AIDS/HIV prevention and testing, encouraging healthy habits in neighborhood children, and advocating for the underserved.

Supported by Community Based Service Learning, student groups in the Einstein Community Action Network bring health-related services to the Bronx.
Dr. Maria Marzan with Ana Julia Cruz, leadership of the CBSL program
Now, to encourage and support these student initiatives, Einstein has established the Community Based Service Learning (CBSL) program. Through the program, these projects will be housed under an umbrella organization dubbed the Einstein Community Action Network (Einstein CAN). A major goal of CBSL is to provide a "home base" that offers the organizational and administrative resources that these groups need while ensuring they can be sustained as their founding members move on in their education.

"The CBSL program is very helpful to us," said Anthony Bowen, a leader of BODY, a student group committed to raising awareness about diabetes and obesity in the Bronx. "Now, our group members will be able to build on the progress of prior student efforts to create a lasting impact, rather than reinvent the wheel every few years."

Preparing for Hands-On Experiences

A student reads an HIV test result administered by members of HEART, one of the groups in Einstein CAN
A student reads an HIV test result administered by members of HEART, one of the groups in Einstein CAN

CBSL evolved in response to requests from Einstein students who sought support and better continuity for their projects. "Students felt the need for more focused preparation to support their volunteer work and a more formal connection to opportunities for professional development," said Dr. Maria Marzan, director of CBSL.

Program staff members offer training seminars with a multidisciplinary group of health professionals that include social workers, physicians and nurses. Student leaders for each project also identify and work closely with faculty mentors.

"The interdisciplinary sessions provide a structure for learning the skills needed to interact with a diverse population, offering specific background on the health status of Bronx residents and health disparities they may encounter," noted Ana Julia Cruz, who is the program's manager.

Students are introduced to a range of topics, including the social determinants of health that impact health disparities and outcomes among diverse populations in the Bronx, such as socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and accessibility to care.

Opportunities for Learning and Growth

"Through our professional development series, which addresses topics such as cultural competency, applying social work and community advocacy, we hope to augment students' leadership skills to further their work in the community," explained Dr. Marzan.

CBSL also evaluates and monitors ongoing projects, while providing opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences. "This helps them to assess their project's objectives, as well as to evaluate whether they are achieving their goals and what new goals they may wish to set," said Dr. Marzan.

Dynamic Group Efforts

The projects within Einstein CAN, currently supported through CBSL, are:

  • B-BOP is the acronym for Bronx Barbershop Outreach Program, whose goal is to provide men's health information and referrals for services — including but not limited to prostate health — for men at barbershops throughout the Bronx.
  • BODY, which stands for Bronx, Obesity, Diabetes and You, partners medical and graduate students with the local community to raise awareness about obesity and diabetes, as well as to educate community members about the values of exercise and nutrition. One of the initiatives of BODY includes its community garden, which provides community members with access to fresh produce as well as to activities through which both children and adults can learn about healthy eating and exercise.
  • Einstein Buddies works with physical and occupational therapists at Einstein's Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center, to help children with physical and mental disabilities
  • EiSci, short for Einstein Science High School Mentoring Program, focuses on mentoring Bronx high school students while also exposing them to careers in science and medicine. Einstein medical and graduate students meet with high school students in a bi-monthly after-school program. Consistent mentoring groups are established to foster connections between students in the program and Einstein students. 
  • HEART, which stands for HIV Education and Rapid Testing, works in partnership with the Adolescent AIDS Program at Montefiore to provide weekly HIV testing at Bronx Community College and Lehman College. HEART students also hold bi-weekly STD seminars at Horizon Juvenile Detention Center and offer sex education at neighboring middle and high schools throughout the Bronx.
  • HOPE, or the Homeless Outreach Project at Einstein, strives to attend to the needs of the homeless clients of the Bronx. Working closely with The Living Room and Einstein's Advocate Homeless Outreach Program.
  • PACt, which stands for Patient Advocate ConnecTion, focuses on improving the experience of patients and their families coping with chronic illness and their interactions with the healthcare system.
  • TEACH, or Project TEACH, is a joint project involving students from Einstein and Yeshiva University, who lead educational and recreational activities for youngsters, age 2 to 21, who are hospital inpatients. TEACH stands for Together Educating All Children in Hospitals, and group members run the activities in hospital playrooms or at the bedside, depending on a child's need.

The BODY garden offers activities as well as a pleasant retreat thanks to the efforts of the BODY Club
The BODY Garden offers activities as well as a pleasant retreat thanks to the efforts of the BODY Club, another Einstein CAN group

Forging Community Engagement

At the close of 2013, these groups hosted a holiday ‘meet and greet' in hopes of establishing an advisory board made up of community members, Einstein CAN representatives and faculty.

"Successful public service has its roots in teamwork and collaboration with the community," explained Dr. Marzan. "CBSL offers a platform for those students who are seriously committed to providing meaningful services to the people of the Bronx, while engaging in teamwork that defines Einstein."

Students are encouraged to contact CBSL's office with any specific questions or concerns about community engagement projects or guidance for establishing new ones.

Posted on: Monday, February 10, 2014