Cooper Medical School's pre-med summer program tackles urban health issues
By Phil Davis, South Jersey Times -- A six-week summer program at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University is looking to change not only the perception of one of the country’s most downtrodden cities, but also examine the issues underlying Camden's decline.
By Phil Davis, South Jersey Times
A six-week summer program at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University is looking to change not only the perception of one of the country’s most downtrodden cities, but also examine the issues underlying Camden's decline.
The school’s Premedical Urban Leaders Summer Enrichment (PULSE) summer program recruits a diverse mix of undergraduate students looking to enter the medical field after their undergraduate classes.
The student body is made up of a richly diverse group of students from all throughout New Jersey with a racial makeup that the associate dean leading the program, Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams, said is one geared to breaking down stereotypes in the field of health sciences.
“It’s a national problem that there aren’t enough physicians from diverse backgrounds,” said Mitchell-Williams, adding that she and other organizers of the program started recruiting numerous colleges around the state for students interested in furthering their studies.
Mitchell-Williams, who serves as the associate dean for diversity and community affairs at the medical college, said that many of the students come from backgrounds where they have to work in order to supplement their studies. All of the 30 students in the program receive a $1,000 stipend for the six-week program in order to replace lost income from any plans of summer jobs.
During the six-week program, the students undertake compiling a research project that highlights health needs in urban areas.
And those topics are not exactly “Instances of Cardiomyopathy in Urban Settings." They range from cause and effect projects relating to homelessness in the Camden area to fighting obesity in largely urban areas.
An event held on Friday had the 30 students presenting their findings on their chosen subjects and submitting them for a final review.
John McGeehan, the associate dean for student affairs, was the one tasked with critiquing the projects. In the three years the program has been up and running, he said one of the keys to having a successful summer program is to have students dedicated to solving larger problems on a smaller scale in Camden.
“If they have a sort of emotional attachment to it, they’re more likely to participate in the solution,” said McGeehan. “Kindling the fire is what this is all about.”
“A program like this brings kids one step closer to being health care providers,” he added.
Julian Watson, a 21-year-old from New Brunswick, was one of the students who enrolled in the program this summer. His project focused on human trafficking and the sex trade in New Jersey.
According to his research, of the 1,000 homeless children in the state of New Jersey, 250 of them had gone through some level of human trafficking or were taken advantage of sexually.
Through his research he said that he found that the problem was not necessarily one linked only to immigration and international slave trade, but was one that can grow domestically in cities like Camden.
“A lot of it is environmental,” said Watson. “If you have a lot of older friends who have been involved in it, you’ve seen it, you understand it.”
Watson spoke with centers like the Covenant House in Camden, a non-profit organization providing assistance and advocacy for homeless people, in order to get a better understanding as to the extent of domestic human trafficking.
According to him, the center told him there were instances of homeless youths and young adults becoming involved in human trafficking through friends and family members “two to three times a week.”
Watson’s project stuck with many of those in attendance at Friday’s event and he hopes to bring the issue to the forefront of the conversation of health issues in urban areas as one that could be fixed and heal the area’s less than prestigious reputation.
“People aren’t simply taking enough steps to offer them better options,” said Watson. “People need to think it’s big enough to throw interest and funding behind it.”
Alexus Silver, a Mount Laurel native and also a PULSE student, was at Friday’s event displaying her project centered around childhood obesity in urban areas, which she said had some preventable causes.
According to a survey conducted by the Rutgers University Center for State Health Policy, 39 percent of boys under 18 years of age were considered to be obese or overweight in Camden, compared to 32 percent nationally.
The study, which focused on Camden, Vineland, New Brunswick, Trenton and Newark, was something that interested Silver after working on a previous research paper on the adverse effects the fast food industry has on health culture.
“There are a lot of factors (that go into developing obesity) that I took for granted growing up in the suburbs,” said Silver.
She found through her research that children were not only lacking enough healthy food and exercise to establish an active lifestyle, but the factors contributing to it may be ones that people do not expect.
Her research found parents worrying about the safety of their children being let out into the streets to play, kids being discouraged to ride their bikes due to their local roads being in disrepair and families without the means of transportation to make it to a safer public park or health facility.
“Some of these neighborhood didn’t have street lights,” added Silver.
“There’s a misconception that Camden is the way it is because the people want it that way,” said Silver. “Poverty, in general, I feel is a snowball effect.”