Former Poverty Studies Minors in Medicine

Students pursuing the Poverty Studies Interdisciplinary Minor come from a variety of academic backgrounds— however, the number of PSIM students hoping to pursue a medical degree continues to grow since the programs inception. These students hail from a variety of the pre-medicine majors available at Notre Dame and are united by their wish to understand the implications of poverty in healthcare.

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Break down of Poverty Studies Minors by college. Overtime there has been an increasing proportion of poverty studies minors who come from the College of Science.

These students have gone on to pursue medical degrees at institutions such as the University of Virginia, Duke University, and John Hopkins University. Former Poverty Studies minors consistently note skills and knowledge gained through the minor as helpful in their current careers as medical students. These experiences allow students to realize social determinants of health related to poverty, a skill that is not only helpful as an undergraduate, but also when applying to, interviewing for, and attending medical school.

Several former students noted their capstones (a requirement of the minor) as a transformative experience in understanding the interconnectedness of poverty and medicine Mr. Matt Stewart, a third year medical student at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine completed a capstone project which examined the challenges low income students face as they pursue a degree at Notre Dame. He has continued this work during medical school, noting that “the percentage of low income students with disadvantaged backgrounds at medical school is even lower than the already low numbers at ND.” To properly treat the diverse patient population in the U.S., it is necessary to train a diverse group of doctors—patients benefit when doctors understand the complexities and intensities of social determinants of health. Mr. Stewart’s capstone project enabled him to lay the ground work at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine to ease the path to becoming a physician for those from modest backgrounds.

This sentiment was echoed by Anne Arnason, a medical student at Loyola University. She notes that her experience immersing herself in different unfamiliar cultures has allowed her to better understand the needs of people seeking care. This was a skill that she developed during her Kellogg Institute summer internship with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children in Uganda. Since then she has sought out several opportunities to interact with underserved communities-- including work with Back on My Feet and summer projects which will work into assessing how development affects social determinants of health and analyzing the effectiveness of a vulnerability index a housing nonprofit uses to screen for need.

Mr. Matt Mazur, a medical student at the University of Toledo, also marked his capstone project as an eye-opening experience in his path to becoming a physician.

Matt Mazur and his team in Guatemala.

His project worked with the United Way and the South Bend School district to investigate health care options for the medically underserved in South Bend. This information was utilized in a grant application for a school-based community health center. Mazur’s capstone experience is one of the factors which motivates him to volunteer at the University of Toledo’s student-run Community Care Clinic; this clinic provides a variety of medical services at a low cost to people without health insurance.

Students consistently apply their knowledge of poverty and medicine not only on a local scale, but also on an international scale. Mr. Aaron Tarnasky, a third year medical student at Duke University, notes his work while at ND at district hospitals in Cape Town, South Africa and the medical missions in rural Nicaragua he took part in through the Global Medical Brigades as experiences which allowed him to recognize the significant barriers to attaining and maintaining health for individuals in under-resourced settings. These experiences inspired him to pursue a Master’s of Public Health to augment his medical degree.  . Mr. Tarnasky also hopes this will enable him to incorporate population-level research and policy implementation in his future clinical practice.  Mr. Mazur echoed the value of an international perspective of poverty and health when describing his recent medical mission trip to San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala. His team was able to provide treatment to over 700 patients during their week in Guatemala, and he hopes this serves as the beginning in his goal of enabling health access to the underserved.

The experiences enabled through the poverty studies minor have repeatedly been shown to be transformative to students pursuing careers in the medical field. It serves as an excellent basis of information that sets students apart not only in the application process, but also in the practice of medical education. The minor also provides opportunities to explore interests at a local, national, and international level through capstone projects and the experiential learning requirement. As echoed by Mazur, the flexibility inherent to the minor’s structure provides the opportunity “to do what inspires you most, and [to] embrace every opportunity to explore that passion.” 

Loan Repayment for Medical School Resource

Former Notre Dame students created a resource to outline loan repayment options for those who plan to attend medical school.