by Holly Favino, SMI Director
Is it worthwhile participating in a short-term health care ministry project? Will it have impact or provide any meaningful long-term good? As the director of the Philadelphia Summer Medical Institute (SMI), I’ve had the privilege of reviewing our research, following up with local church partners, reading the students’ blog and evaluations, witnessing the program firsthand for the past five years, and developing relationships with the student participants. I am glad to answer that question with a clear “YES!”
SMI took place June 25–July 16 and is a joint project of Medical Campus Outreach and Esperanza Health Center, a Christian health center in North Philadelphia. Eighteen health care students, one medical intern from a, and over 40 rotating volunteer “faculty” (Christian medical professionals) provided free door-to-door health screens in Hispanic North Philadelphia. The teams worked with local interpreters for Spanish-speaking households and referred people interested to three local church partners. The teams screened 632 individuals, prayed with 612, had 62 ask to receive follow-up from local churches, and prayed with five to receive Christ.
Health education in this community can sometimes be crucial. In a follow up research call last year, one man told us, “You saved my life!” His screen indicated an “urgent high, new positive (previously unknown high)” blood pressure reading. After years of ignoring his health and experiencing recent symptoms, he took the students’ recommendation and got the preventive medical care he needed.
SMI also has a significant impact on the student participants. The lessons they learn are often multiple, and each can experience:
- Daily opportunity to share their faith in Christ in the health care context
- An opportunity to learn the complexities of urban healthcare
- Christ-centered discipleship and fellowship
- A renewed vision for their career
“Taking the time to listen to people’s stories and struggles, offering compassionate or encouraging words, and giving each person you interact with an opportunity to learn that their Savior loves them more than they could ever imagine—these things are so simple yet often overlooked in my daily life when I let medicine dictate my schedule and priorities,” said medical student Ben D, who has participated in SMI for three summers.
Said student Sarah G of SMI 2016, “SMI has been God’s alarm clock to my relationship with him. God has truly surrounded me with a community of believers and a reminder that I am his daughter and that he truly loves me.”
This summer marked the 25th consecutive year of SMI, started in 1992 by a group of Christian healthcare students who partnered with Esperanza to battle a measles epidemic in Philadelphia. Since then, many SMI participants have gone on to work at Esperanza, including several employed there now as nurses and physicians. Steve Noblett, executive director of the Christian Community Health Fellowship, visited SMI last summer and told us that participation in SMI Philadelphia was one of three significant factors that influenced clinicians to practice in their national network of Christian community health centers for the poor. SMI Philadelphia has also inspired replication in numerous other communities in the United States and around the world.
In this anniversary year, it was exciting to witness the birth of a new project in Eastern Europe. A Christian Eastern European medical center sent interns and staff physicians to participate with us for the past two summers. Ready to start their own project this year in their local community, they invited three American SMI students to participate. The teams introduced many in the community to the local churches and several received Christ. “This project taught me to be more purposeful in sharing the gospel,” said fourth year medical student Maureen W.
All of this is done to give all praise and honor to God. It is in his name that we work and find purpose and joy. May God allow SMI to affect lives for Christ for years to come!