One of these extraordinary stories of service was showcased at a Health Fair on Feb. 21. More than 200 students and their parents visited Esteban Torres High School in East Los Angeles and participated in a wide range of health-related activities.
This year's Health Fair organizers, TJ Nguyen (MS2) and Elyse Guran (MS2), were interviewed together via video chat. Torres's science teacher, Afrodita Fuentes, was interviewed separately by phone.
Beginning of a relationship — a school garden
Afrodita Fuentes began working with UCLA medical students three years ago, when medical students Kelly Mooney and Max Goldstein taught health lessons in her biology class. "I loved the way they approached [the] students," she says. "They were very caring, very detail-oriented." Fuentes remembers how Goldstein expanded their small school garden. "Max brought the tools and garden beds," she says. "He gathered [medical and high school] students to come on a Saturday to build the garden beds at school."
Fuentes recounted the abundance of the new garden, which flourishes today with produce such as purple and black carrots, corn and kale that students can bring home to their families. Fuentes radiated pride in her students, who now hunger for vegetable smoothies.
Medical students as mentors and models
The service day at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA harnesses the energy of busy medical students for community service throughout the school year. Medical students with Project Health Education and Leadership (Project HEAL) have been offering monthly health-education classes, serving as mentors and answering questions about medical school and health-based careers. Fuentes has been impressed by how the medical students are both inspiring and honest about how her high school students must work hard. "There is a ray of hope for them to go to UCLA, maybe," she says. Nonetheless, it "gives them a bit of reality, too."
From education to career
The first Health Fair took place last year; it arose from the efforts of both medical students and Fuentes' students. About 150 students attended, and it was so popular that the consensus was to host another event.
TJ Nguyen and Elyse Guran expressed enthusiasm for the Health Fair, Esteban Torres High School and their fellow medical students. As Nguyen describes it, the Health Fair has expanded its activities to include more specific parent education and career information. Access to healthcare, for instance, is a theme the Health Fair incorporates through a variety of presentations about insurance options. Some of the activities, including hands-on ultrasound demonstrations, are meant to give high school students a glimpse into a real medical career.
Being a leader
TJ's service is motivated by empowerment within the healthcare community: "[Medical students] can ... advocate for quality healthcare for all — our patients, our communities. That is what being a doctor is all about," he says. "Being an agent, [a] leader." Guran was self-effacing during the interview until Nguyen exclaimed, "Elyse is a Geffen Scholar!"
Geffen Scholars are students who receive a full four-year scholarship to medical school at UCLA. Guran explains that she had planned to pursue a career in research, but her volunteer work at a Venice health clinic inspired her to enter medicine.
Nguyen's and Guran's mutual respect was palpable in the interview. Nguyen smiled at her friend and said, "We're just better when we work together." That comment is so apt in describing what a special relationship there is between UCLA and Esteban Torres High School.