The University Record, January 11, 1993

Medstart addresses tough issues

"People just don't understand that something as simple as an ear infection in childhood can affect a child's whole life," says third-year medical student Kevin N. Hibbert. "A child who can't hear may not learn to speak or will learn slowly. Then he is labeled a `problem child' in school, may not graduate and may not get a job."

And, says Jenny M. Bishop, "the answer is so simple and relatively inexpensive. Amoxycillin to treat the ear infection."

Simple, that is, if the child has easy access to medical care---a privilege not afforded to some 38 million uninsured Americans, many of whom are poor children.

Hibbert, also a first-year public health student, and Bishop, a third-year medical student, encountered the consequences of lack of access to medical care when they spent the summer after their first years of medical school working with poor children---Hibbert at the New York City Children's Health Project and Bishop at a family practice clinic in Hilton, N.Y., a small town outside Rochester.

"Kevin and I talked on the phone during the summer about what we were learning working with these poor children, and about how much we had not known. And we asked each other, `What about all the doctors who don't know from first-hand experience what happens to poor children and their families in this country?'" Bishop says.

"We medical students, particularly at Michigan where the focus is on unusual diseases and special care, get terribly wrapped up in our medical training. We live in bubbles," she adds.

Their own bubbles popped, and the two called the Children's Defense Fund and the Children's Aid Society for ideas on how to develop a program for medical students that would ultimately help their young patients. Medstart and the "Building Coalitions for Children" (Jan. 16) conference was the result.

Medstart, founded by Hibbert and Bishop, is entirely student-run, now has about 30 members who meet once or twice a month for lunchtime meetings. "We show videos related to childhood issues and bring in speakers. And now we are beginning a Journal Club, where we read and discuss relevant studies," explains second-year medical student and current Medstart President Pamela S. Davies.

Medstart students also volunteer for the MedRock program, where medical students spend time rocking newborns and sick infants in the neonatal nursery and oncology ward.

"We are now working on a Child Watch Program, which will take medical students---and interested law, social work and public health students---to places like the Maxey Boys Home, low income community schools and public health clinics to see the difficulties facing poor children," Hibbert says.

"Once people see for themselves what these kids face, they personalize the issues and begin advocating for children," he adds. "It gets harder for them to ignore them."