Blog Post

Tomorrow's Healthcare Leaders Are Creating Impact Today: Spotlight on GCSOM Student Action Network

March 14, 2023
Intend Health Strategies Blog
Tomorrow's Healthcare Leaders Are Creating Impact Today: Spotlight on GCSOM Student Action Network

One of Intend Health’s longstanding Primary Care Progress Student Action Network (PCP SAN) teams at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM) directly impacts the surrounding community with rich and varied projects that provide student members with collaboration and leadership opportunities.

The GCSOM team has a busy schedule, and we are grateful for their help in spotlighting these projects and events, as shared by four current PCP SAN team leaders.

Getting Involved With Student Action Network

Molly Stewart* notes that current and recent leadership teams have been proactively involving first-year students. The PCP SAN team executive board (e-board), currently comprising 13 positions, invites interested students for leadership positions during the following semester or year. Other options for involvement are also available, with various levels of commitment to accommodate busy schedules.

“The e-board is a great opportunity for anyone considering a leadership position in medicine,” Molly says. “If a team member feels that a new position could be created to fill a need, he or she can suggest such a position. We ended up creating a few new positions that way.”

Evan Raubenstine adds, “What’s unique about the GCSOM team is that over 90 percent of our members, both general and in leadership, are part of the Abigail Geisinger Scholars Program, where Scholars go on to serve the community in primary care as part of the Geisinger network.” He also mentions the team’s presence at the GCSOM organization fair, citing both as gateways to involvement with PCP SAN.

“Any member can play an active role in this club. ... There are so many different people involved who are active, creating their own events, and pursuing their passions."
— Joanna Bernatowicz

According to Joanna Bernatowicz, the team’s horizontal leadership structure contributes to its welcoming nature. “Any member can play an active role in this club; no one member is running the show. There are so many different people involved who are active, creating their own events, and pursuing their passions."

SooYoung VanDeMark’s path to the GCSOM SAN team was different. "Before being an MD candidate, I was in Geisinger’s Master of Biomedical Science (MBS) program and had joined the PCP SAN team then. When I was accepted into the medical school, I was happy that I could continue to be a part of the club as a medical student.”

Roles on the GCSOM PCP SAN Team: a Place for Everyone

SooYoung is the liaison to the PCP SAN National Team. She participates in coaching calls and meets with teams from other institutions in the cohort. She also publicizes workshops and informational meetings that Intend Health offers in the service of helping her and her team become better leaders.

Molly Stewart created and holds one of the new leadership positions, as the committee head and liaison to the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), a community organization that works to end domestic and sexual violence through advocacy, education, system change, and empowering services to all survivors. Stewart recruits student volunteers for WRC, hosts events collaboratively between the WRC and the medical school, and arranges for WRC representatives to visit GCSOM to talk to students about their work.

Evan Raubenstine is president of the GCSOM PCP team. He coordinates with the team’s faculty advisor, helps SooYoung coordinate with the national team, and integrates first-year students into the club, helping those interested in leadership transition to roles on the e-board. He also serves in an administrative capacity, helping to ensure that meetings and events run smoothly and that funding is secured. Evan notes that all current team members are MD candidates and that, “we hope to extend invitations to other programs; nursing, for example. We’re hoping for interprofessional, cross-disciplinary expansion now that we’re meeting in person again.”

Project Spotlight: Death Over Dinner

In collaboration with the Psychiatry Student Interest Group and the Palliative Care Interest Group (PCIG), the team hosts two annual events, “Death Over Dinner” and “Mental Health Over Dinner.” The goal of both events is to reduce stigma around these topics, making difficult conversations easier. Events are organized around different themes, and speakers from the community are invited to present.

Joanna Bernatowicz describes last year’s “Death Over Dinner” event, which focused on the story of a faculty member and her wife, who has a terminal diagnosis. The couple was joined by a palliative care physician, all three of whom spoke at the dinner. The event was open to the community and included attendees from outside the student body. Joanna says, “I remember it being very impactful. There were a lot of tears.”

“For this year’s event,” Joanna says, “our focus is a little different. To gather different perspectives, we’ve reached out to cultural clubs across campus and religious organizations in the community. We have five speakers scheduled, who will talk about their cultural practices around death, to expand the way people think about death, which we hope will be beneficial to our medical students.”

“Death Over Dinner” has been held annually for several years and continues to grow in popularity. When asked why it might be drawing increasing attention, SooYoung spoke about her personal experience and engagement with the topic. In addition to her work with PCP SAN, SooYoung is the president of the Palliative Care Interest Group (PCIG), which hosts “Death Salons” each month. The purpose of these gatherings is to reduce the stigma around death and dying. While “Death Over Dinner” is open to anyone in the community, PCIG approaches the dying experience through the lens of a physician.

“I heard about ‘Death Over Dinner’ when I was in my master’s program and knew that’s where I wanted to be involved. These are conversations that are very difficult to have, but doing so in a more intimate, relaxed setting over dinner helps people open up. The event is very impactful. I’m excited about this year’s ‘Death Over Dinner,’ because we’re reaching out to community members to speak. There will be cultural diversity, as well as more community involvement.”

Evan Raubenstine offers another perspective on the event. “I loved our last ‘Death Over Dinner.’ As a first-year medical student, it was cathartic to speak about something more emotionally charged. As a student, to be able to take a pause from studying or taking exams  — for 90 minutes or two hours — and discuss this complex, and at times taboo, thing that we’ll see more of than most, was very cathartic. We have a lot of first-year students signed up, and our faculty advisor has invited a lot of doctors. I look forward to meaningful discussion about something that does happen every single day.“

Project Update: Death Over Dinner

The latest “Death Over Dinner” event took place after this interview. Supported by a generous donation from an attendee and additional funding from Intend Health, 60 guests attended. Students and religious leaders representing the Mormon Church, the Islamic Center of Scranton, Temple Israel, the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association, and the South Asian Society spoke about their respective cultures and faiths with an emphasis on death.

Project Spotlight: Supporting the Women’s Resource Center

Molly Stewart describes a WRC exhibit called “Domestic Violence Leaves an Empty Place at the Table,” honoring those who have died in domestic violence incidents in Susquehanna and Lackawanna counties in Pennsylvania. In the fall, for the first time, the team held an on-campus event of the same name. The exhibit from the WRC was featured at the medical school for GCSOM students, faculty, and staff to visit.

“We also held an event featuring talks with the Executive Director of WRC and physicians who have worked in domestic violence,” says Stewart. “After the talks, attendees were invited to view the exhibit. It features items donated in memory of family members who died in domestic violence incidents. It was a very powerful display with a place setting for each victim to echo the ‘empty place at the table’ theme. Next semester, we’re hoping to have a clinical skills event, where students will learn how to do a sexual assault exam from a nurse examiner. This isn’t always offered in medical school education, unfortunately.”

Impacts of Participation in Student Action Network

Molly notes some of the practical skills she has learned from participating in SAN, specifically in running WRC committee and event-planning meetings. “I’ve put into practice what I’ve learned around running effective meetings, including setting norms at the beginning, offering multiple ways for people to interact, and making sure to provide time and space. All of these tools have been effective in helping people feel more comfortable speaking. We were able to have an effective debrief after our ‘Empty Place at the Table' event and came up with several things that will be helpful for the next team.”

“Intend Health and the PCP SAN National Team come to this authentically. ... Intend Health equips us to make change and teaches us that we’re all leaders, no matter where we are in our positions.”
— SooYoung VanDeMark

SooYoung adds, “Molly just walked through all the steps of Relational Leadership through observing, connecting, and reflecting. Intend Health and the PCP SAN National Team are legitimate. They come to this authentically and want us to do good work. We get paid lip service, as in ‘we’re healthcare workers, and we’re going to change the world,’ but Intend Health equips us to make change and teaches us that we’re all leaders, no matter where we are in our positions.”

“Intend Health meets us where we are in our self-development as leaders. ... Being a part of PCP SAN has enhanced our education"
— Evan Raubenstine

According to Evan, “Intend Health meets us where we are in our self-development as leaders. It’s nice to have coaches who have been through the medical school process and who understand how busy we are. It’s refreshing that they ‘keep it real’ and understand our time constraints. And, it’s great to receive tips that guide us through this amazing medical education from people who have been through it themselves.”

“Medical school can be overwhelming,” he continues. “This is a club where your ideas are welcome. You’ll have a team of 10 to 13 members to support you. While a specific area might be your passion, you do need support along the way to bring events and projects to life. Being a part of PCP SAN has enhanced our education; we’ve explored topics that may not be covered as extensively in standard medical school curriculum, such as the nurse examiner exam, domestic violence, or more palliative care events that may only be covered over one to two lectures during an academic year. We’re really able to help people follow their interests.”

SooYoung adds, “I really enjoyed my time with Student Action Network and can see myself staying engaged going forward. I’m looking forward to that.”

More About the PCP Student Action Network

Our national Student Action Network (SAN) comprises interprofessional, student-led teams from as many as 20 institutions each year.

With support from coaches and faculty advisors, students design and implement community-based projects while developing their Relational Leadership skills through quarterly workshops, ongoing coaching sessions, and large-scale community events.

While the name of our organization changed to Intend Health Strategies in 2022, the name of our student program remains unchanged, reflecting its origins in and continuing focus on primary care. Learn more about the PCP Student Action Network.

This work is possible because of the generosity of our partners, sponsors, and donors. Together, we're creating stronger and more effective healthcare teams.

* We have used a pseudonym at the interviewee’s request

Spotlighting Community Impact and Leadership Opportunities With Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s Student Action Network.

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