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  • Linnea Iannazzone

South Carolina Program Provides Learning Experience for All

Clemente student Celeste Gadsden presents her research in 2018. Photos by Dawn Brazell, MUSC.

In a unique partnership in Charleston, South Carolina, a local Clemente Course has teamed up with the Medical University of South Carolina on a project designed to empower students to advocate for their own health needs and care—and give future providers the opportunity to learn from real patient experiences.

Originally created in 2015, the Health Awareness Series is a sequence of lectures and facilitated classroom discussions designed by MUSC medical students to provide information about healthy lifestyles and navigating systems like health insurance. The initial series focused on eight topics, such as nutrition and exercise, that were chosen based on existing research about community health needs in the Charleston area.

An awards ceremony for the project in 2018.

When the pandemic hit, the project sadly went dormant. But it was revived in 2022 by a small, dedicated group of students and supervising doctors who felt that there was more work to be done. They took the opportunity to reimagine the curriculum, surveying current and past Clemente participants to make sure that the conversation topics aligned with participant interests and covered knowledge gaps. MUSC student feedback mentioned that the honest and open conversations with Clemente participants gave the medical students a rare opportunity to talk to community members about their experiences in the healthcare system, beyond the usual limitations of a hospital or office setting.

“Moving forward, we’re emphasizing that it’s not about us coming in to tell people what should be important to them, it’s asking them about what is important to them and how we can help them find credible information about the topics they want to learn about,” says Thomas Agostini, one of the student directors of the project.

“That bi-directional, two-way learning opportunity makes it a more sustainable, robust relationship.”

The team is also looking forward to expanding the reach of the Health Awareness Series to anyone with an Internet connection; they’ve secured grant funding from MUSC and Gold Humanism Honor Society, a foundation that champions humanism in healthcare, to take the project online. The online curriculum will include five new sessions on topics proposed by Clemente students: diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer screening, vaccines, and advanced care planning. The preliminary website for the project, which includes links to many of these modules, is available here.

“I’m so thankful for the guidance of our great faculty mentors in restarting this program,” Thomas says. “It was important to make it a learning opportunity for medical students on how to go about doing community engagement in a way that is considerate of everyone. We’re looking forward to working with Clemente and other organizations in Charleston to make the program accessible and provide ways for people to give suggestions of what they want to see in the future.”

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