Melissa Rolfsen and Kyle Roedersheimer met when both were teaching science at Garinger High School in Charlotte with Teach For America.
Both Rolfsen, 27, and Roedersheimer, 28, knew their time as teachers was limited because they both had plans to go to medical school.
“We had weekly conversations about how to best impact the Garinger community,” Rolfsen said, and “how to leave a legacy behind.”
Kahra Manji-Nix, 28, another Teach For America instructor at West Charlotte High School who also planned to attend medical school, joined their discussions. Manji-Nix shared their passion for ensuring that all children have access to quality education.
The three friends attended medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill following their Teach For America commitments. Now, Manji-Nix is in the first year of an internship in emergency medicine at Emory University Hospital. Rolfsen is a second-year medical student at UNC-Chapel Hill and Roedersheimer is a fourth-year medical student at Carolinas Medical Center (CMC).
Despite their busy schedules, they came up with a way to link their Teach For America ideals and students with their medical professions.
“We heard students talk to us about wanting to be a nurse or doctor and, when we inquired further, there seemed to be a gap in understanding how to get there,” Roedersheimer said.
They also noticed a lack of diversity among their medical school peers, faculty and colleagues.
“We were hoping to diversity the health care workforce with hope of decreasing health care disparities,” Rolfsen said.
The friends launched PATCH, which stands for Propelling Adolescents Towards Careers in Health, in January. The program consists of eight consecutive Saturday classes exposing high school students from Title I Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) to the health care profession.
They approached Dr. Iris Cheng, 52, a general internist and medical educator at Carolinas Medical Center who is also a clinical professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine’s Charlotte campus. She agreed to serve as the faculty adviser for PATCH and helped the three medical students find clinical connections within the hospital and build an advisory board.
We were hoping to diversity the health care workforce with hope of decreasing health care disparities.
Melissa Rolfsen, PATCH co-founder
“It was really exciting to see how the community came together both inside and outside the hospital to make this happen,” Rolfsen said.
In January, 18 students from West Charlotte High School and Garinger High School participated in PATCH. The friends plan to expand to 24 students during the next session and hope to grow the program in future years, including follow-up programming and mentoring for each year’s graduates.
The PATCH participants, who received bus passes to travel to and from the hospital, began each of the eight Saturdays in the program with two hours shadowing physicians, nurses and physical therapists. They then spent two hours participating in hands-on, skill-building workshops such as engaging in simulations or making casts with the orthopedic department. At lunch, which CMC’s volunteer services department donated for the participants and the instructors, the students listened to guest speakers from different fields of medicine. The final hour of each day was devoted to working on group projects related to community health issues, which the students presented during closing ceremonies in March.
“They made posters and videos with really impressive and innovative ideas on how to educate their peers on health care issues they are facing,” Cheng said.
“The students learned so much more than any of us had hoped or imagined they would learn,” Rolfsen said. “We were all blown away.”
Cheng was able to see her students, who had been teachers, embrace both roles so passionately.
“This is an incredible effort from students who were in the toughest years of their training,” Cheng said. “They knew nobody in the hospital and had to network. They were such a tour de force.”
The PATCH program was awarded a $1,500 Zollicoffer-Cross Community Health Fellowship from UNC Medical School and is one of three finalists for the Charlotte Business Journal’s 2015 Excellence in Health Care Awards.
But Rolfsen, Roedersheimer and Manji-Nix said the biggest reward has been seeing their idea unfold and take shape.
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.