Being a member of a community comes with a lot of benefits. You have people around you who give you encouragement, who invest in your growth, who value your wellbeing, who celebrate your successes and commiserate with you over your setbacks. But membership in a community places certain obligations on you as well. First, you should offer those same benefits to individuals that they provide to you, the support and celebration and commiseration in equal measure, all of it. Second, you should also feel compelled to leave the community in better standing than when you joined it, adding to its sustainability. Maybe it’s designing a new and more efficient system or maybe it’s reviving an old tradition that you and other members can enjoy and use to strengthen connection. These collective acts are not entirely selfless because we know that what we contribute will come back to us and inspire others to also contribute. That simple question—what do we owe each other—has answers easily seen all over in our department.
A community of leaders ensuring the next generation has the same opportunities they did is a community I am proud to be a part of. Recently we learned that Dr. Heather Reisinger had been accepted to a leadership training program for women, the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM). Dr. Lois Geist, our former associate dean for faculty development and now associate provost for the University of Iowa, is herself a graduate of ELAM and a former instructor. Other women in the department, such as Dr. Loreen Herwaldt and Executive Dean Dr. Pat Winokur, are also alums. And though it has been six years since I also attended ELAM, it feels like not so long ago. I found, just as Dr. Geist said in the post linked above, that new and unexpected doors were opened to me much more quickly because of my experience at ELAM. I found a community of ambitious and supportive women there who challenged me to develop new skills, to employ creative solutions to old problems, and to pay it forward. I know that Dr. Reisinger will finish this year eager to find someone she can encourage to attend as well.
We also have a community of learners and, just as I said in my last post, in the same way we all have been transformed by educators, we have the privilege of participating in the transformation of a new generation. That community is one that stretches out over time but is nonetheless one we to which we all belong and to which we all owe a debt. One of our department’s best educators, one who has continued to give and give, is Dr. Milena Gebska. Most recently, she was the recipient of a collegiate innovation grant that will allow us to intervene earlier with our medical students in training them how to obtain informed consent. Shared decision-making is one of the most challenging skills but one that we can help our trainees learn to value early in their careers so that they continue to refine their practice of it into an art.
When we talk about community and responsibility, we should not forget the more traditional sense of community, whether defined narrowly as Iowa City, or more broadly to include Iowa or even the Midwest. As members of one of the leading academic medical centers in the region, we are the ones best positioned to ensure the health of our community members, our neighbors. But, of course, the challenge has been in connecting ourselves with them effectively and in a way that delivers that care without creating more harm. An effective way to increase equitable access to care is through charitable contributions to or engagement with nonprofit organizations already experienced in connecting with community members. Both the recent charity walks for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the AHA’s Heartwalk far exceeded its donation goals in part because of the generosity of our department’s members.
But another way that poses real potential for positive change is work like what Drs. Martha Carvour, Kimberly Dukes, and Aloha Wilks are currently engaged in with the E-HSP project. You can read more about its inception and goals here. As the project enters its second year, they have begun to connect with community members and organizations like SALUD! in Storm Lake. By partnering with local professionals already on the ground, they are more quickly determining what the community health care needs are and the best way to meet them, identifying the gaps in care and the barriers to be overcome. Health screenings, including dental care, a vaccination clinic later this summer, these are just some of the in-roads these researchers are making to reducing health inequities in the system. Recently Dr. Carvour appeared with former Iowa City council member and executive director of the Center for Worker Justice Mazihir Salih in a webinar for the College of Public Health’s Institute for Public Health Practice for public health agencies around the state. The pair discussed the impact of COVID-19, the exacerbation it had on existing health inequities, and how local agencies can begin to repair the damage and even build new and better structures. On Tuesday at 10 am next week, Dr. Carvour will be a guest on Iowa Public Radio’s Talk of Iowa program to talk about the intersection of COVID-19 and diabetes. We are grateful for her tireless efforts to connect with all of our communities.