Student Volunteers


‚ÄčTonia Twichell

(October 2011) Lindsey Chao started volunteering when she was 12 years old, so by the time she entered medical school, the habit was well established.

Now the second-year CU medical student is leading the community gardens portion of Bridging Research and Aurora Neighborhoods for Community Health (BRANCH), a student organization that recently started a farmer’s market serving Anschutz Medical Campus and the surrounding Aurora community.

“I worked at a hospital with ALS patients—I still work with patients—and I volunteered with a special needs soccer team,” she says. “I really enjoy being able to do that.”

Chao is typical of many CU medical students who donate several thousand hours each year to help people locally and around the world.

Volunteering experience is not a requirement for acceptance to medical school, but Director of Admissions Dimple Patel says many applicants are veteran volunteers upon beginning the admissions process.

In the search for well-rounded candidates, Patel says “Sometimes you’ll see that a student hasn’t developed a certain set of skills when they apply, and you realize that they could have developed that through volunteering.”

DSC01447Once accepted, students are expected to continue developing their skills. “We want to see them extend themselves while they’re students into the surrounding community. “

Some of the well-known volunteer efforts include Warren Village, which helps formerly homeless single parent families; Stout Street Clinic, which serves the homeless; Broadway Soup Kitchen, which provides multiple services to the poor; and Health Action Conference, which encourages advocacy in the community.

One of the more far-reaching student volunteer efforts, CU Peru, takes place in the isolated Loreto region of Peru along the Amazon and Napo rivers.

This nongovernmental organization, established by three CU med students in partnership with a local nonprofit group, is dedicated to improving the health of Peru’s local communities.

In the first year, health sciences students created a GPS map of health care facilities in the region. Since then, students have returned each summer since 2008 to treat residents and teach basic medical skills to health promoters, many of whom have no training at all.

This year, students from the School of Medicine, including both medical and physician assistant students and one pharmacy student, had three goals for their stay:

  1. Treat patients for basic health problems including respiratory issues, diabetes, dehydration, fevers and parasites.
  2. Train local health promoters to recognize and treat common health complaints by bringing them together for classes. (The students were in charge of all aspects of the training, from transporting the health promoters of remote villages to organizing their housing, food and education.)
  3. Travel to remote villages for several days of follow-up, individualized training.

“It was brilliant to see them in action,” says Global Health Associate Director Karen Gieseker, PhD, MS.

Through it all, the goal is to respect the local culture, including local healing techniques, beliefs and remedies.

Meanwhile, back home, BRANCH is working to promote good health and nutrition.

“The goal is to connect the Anschutz community with the surrounding city,” Chao says. “We’re in the middle of Aurora, and a lot of people are intimidated by it.”

Across the street from the medical campus at North Middle School, students have been helping build garden beds. At Hinkley High School, the environmental club started a garden.

“They did a ton of work and did a good job organizing,” Chao says. “I’ve never seen a garden so successful. Students have volunteered to water and weed the garden to keep it going. “

Like CU Peru, BRANCH involves students from all health sciences disciplines at Anschutz.

“I always had an interest in nutrition and community health, and this was a great way to be involved, especially with the other schools on campus,” Chao says. “We have pharmacy students, public health—we have some in dentistry. Just to meet them has been neat.”


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