Last summer a medical and a nursing student walked into a small bodega in the Hispanic neighborhood of Hunting Park in North Philadelphia. They wore scrubs, stethoscopes around their necks, and carried a medical backpack filled with health assessment forms, educational handouts, and supplies needed to carry out basic health screens for reading a person’s blood sugar, blood pressure, and body mass index. The temperature was in the 90s and they were already sweating, so they were glad to stop in the store to escape the heat and ask the people behind the counter if they were interested in getting free health screens.
The workers said they were busy, but told the students they could check and see if any of the customers in the back of the store were interested. The back of the store held a small café, where customers were busy ordering Puerto Rican dishes and eating on small tables with red and white checkered vinyl tablecloths. Not only were several customers interested, but some people shared that they hadn’t been to a doctor in a long while, and many people waited patiently around the tables to take their turn. The students worked steadily for almost three hours, providing each person with a small summary of their readings, referrals, and praying with many people.
Some people were interested in learning about the local church the students were partnering with, and the students provided information to those who requested it. More than six months later, the church confirmed that a few of those people who were screened in the neighborhood have now become regular attenders, and the church has now realized a need to develop a Spanish speaking service because of the interest they found through their partnership with the medical outreach!
Similar encounters like this will take place again from June 22 to July 13, when approximately twenty Christian health care students will participate in the Philadelphia Summer Medical Institute (SMI), an annual medical outreach for Christian health care students run by Medical Campus Outreach (MCO) in partnership with Esperanza Health Center, a Christian medical center in North Philadelphia.
Medical Campus Outreach sincerely believes in helping others learn the confidence and joy found in using their vocation and skills to tangibly serve people, especially the poor and underserved, while demonstrating God’s love and sharing the gospel in the health care context. The SMI project is a practical outgrowth of this mission and has continued for 28 years.
The students will live at a local church and will work in the underserved communities of Kensington and Hunting Park. They will provide free door-to-door health screens, health education, and referrals. Esperanza sends members of their HIV team to provide free in-home HIV tests to those who want them. The students will also share the love of Christ through conversation and prayer, referring those interested to local partner churches who provide follow-up. During each week the team spends time in Bible study, breakout teaching sessions, attending church services with local church partners, and shadowing at Esperanza Health Center for a day.
Last summer MCO was also able to take four SMI participants to a predominantly Muslim Eastern European country for two weeks to participate in an SMI project modeled after our own but run by the local physicians from a Christian medical center in the country’s capital. It was both educational and inspiring for our students to see our approach applied in a different cultural and religious context, to build relationships with the local team members, and to see the church’s work bearing fruit there. In 2019, we are excited to continue and build upon this partnership, as one or two of the young physicians in the Christian residency program from that country will be joining us this year for SMI Philadelphia 2019.
How Can Members of Tenth Get Involved?
Members of Tenth have played a pivotal part in helping make this project possible each year and can provide help in a variety of ways.
Faculty: If you’re a medical professional and would enjoy providing informal relational mentoring to students as you accompany them in their work, come volunteer a day or more as a SMI faculty member (no training needed). Not only is it a meaningful opportunity to meet and serve our neighbors in North Philadelphia, but the relationships made with the students are so valuable.
Cooks: We use different volunteer cooks each night to provide a meal for the group (we can reimburse you for your costs if you keep the receipts), to feed our hungry people. It’s a great blessing for the teams to return to a delicious meal after a long day walking the neighborhoods. Also, cooks are welcome to join us for dinner, which is a great time to talk to the students and learn about the work they are doing. Meals can also be dropped off ahead of time at our location or another location that’s mutually convenient.
Interpreters: We will need substitute Spanish/English interpreters for our group. While we do have regular community interpreters, we often need extra who can fill in when needed.
Financial Support: Half of our budget is raised by student support, and the rest through grants and individual donations.
Prayer: Pray that needs will be met and that people can be introduced to the local churches. Pray that students will be spiritually strengthened and learn to have a heart for the underserved and those without a belief in Christ, wherever their career takes them. Pray for Esperanza Health Center, our church partners, our faculty, and our interpreters.
Please contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions or are interested in more details about serving SMI in any way. We look forward with anticipation to June!