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First Baltimore Health Immersion offers students insight into urban health care challenges

July 1, 2015 | By Stephanie Weaver

Baltimore Health Immersion students
Baltimore Health Immersion students and program's director Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner on top of Federal Hill.

Students from Loyola University Maryland and other schools across the country gained real life urban health care experience in Loyola’s first Baltimore Health Immersion this summer. The unique, five-week summer cohort program combines classroom time with service-learning internships in the city.

The program, held from May 17 through June 19, was created partly in response to changes to the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)—which now has an additional focus on societal and psychological impacts of health, rather than exclusively focusing on medicine. The six-credit program comprises two classes—Health Psychology and Urban Health and Faith—that, in addition to traditional lectures, feature guest speakers from Loyola and the Baltimore community with a variety of perspectives on the issues surrounding health in the city in an effort to help students grow as health professionals.

Health care, especially in an urban context, is impacted by psychology, socioeconomics, religion, and neighborhoods, said Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner, Ph.D., the program’s founder and director.

“We wanted to create a learning experience that fits within our identity as a Jesuit university in Baltimore City that would continue to draw attention to study of health and the humanities,” said Lehmijoki-Gardner, coordinator of health professions counseling and an affiliate professor of theology.

Students also spent two days a week at internships at various non-profits focused on health care services in Baltimore. The internships—at Healthcare for the Homeless, Weinberg Housing and Resource Center, Kennedy Krieger Hospital, Keswick Senior Center, and other area health care organizations—give students the chance to apply and reflect on what they have learned throughout the course.

Of the 10 students who took part in the first installment of the program this year, seven were from Loyola; the other three were from Mercer University, the University of Illinois at Urbana, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. One of the highlights, students said, was a bus tour of Baltimore’s neighborhoods.

Working with disadvantaged populations opened students’ eyes to the struggles of many in Baltimore City—young and old. Students received first-hand experience working with the elderly post-hospital stay, women experiencing homelessness and related safety concerns, youth dealing with neurological issues, and people recovering from substance dependence. They also focused on confronting the many stereotypes of these populations.

“We tend to play into stereotypes. For example, society thinks addicts aren’t going anywhere in life when many of them have a college degree. We need to look at the person as a person,” said Tyler Mummery, a rising sophomore psychology and journalism major at Loyola who interned at the Powell Recovery Center.

The program is not limited to students who are pre-med or focused on public health or psychology. Loyola senior global studies major Jacob Petrini believes anyone would benefit from the program because of the focus on public policy and understanding the issues.

Overall, students said they were grateful for the experience this summer.

“I am very humbled,” Kelsey Robinson, a junior psychology major at Loyola, said. “I’m swayed, even more so, to pursue a career in health in an urban environment because of what I’ve learned and gained.”
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