Creating an Open Dialogue Between Students and Medical

As the clinical director for campus life at MIT Medical, I’ve been fortunate to partner with dedicated and passionate students to advance many health-related projects in the last six years. During that time, my colleagues at MIT Medical and I have given considerable thought to approaches to support the health of individual students, but also the entire campus community. As a means of advancing this dialogue, I’d like to share our philosophy with you and discuss some areas where we can continue to improve.

MIT is very much like a small city — a defined geographic area in which community members live, work, shop, and dine. We have law enforcement, health services, “public works,” and commercial and residential areas. Viewing the campus as a civic entity helps us find opportunities for promoting health and wellness far outside the realm of health services and gives us a much bigger “toolbox” with which to work.

It inspires us to ask new questions: Can we pull together a group of interested “citizens” (students, faculty, and staff) to discuss our overall health status? Can we combine the power of existing community networks with on-campus health and recreational services to help people make healthier lifestyle choices? Can we identify health issues common to all community members and consider broader options for making positive changes?

The best health systems in cities and towns work together with community leaders to identify and resolve health issues. In our case, we are fabulously lucky to have the Student Health Advisory Committee. SHAC has helped our clinicians understand the everyday lives of MIT students — the time pressure, the unique dining system, and fifth week flags. SHAC has given us MIT-specific tips for discussing sensitive topics such as stress.

At the same time, SHAC has helped students understand how to use MIT Medical — appointments, walk-in, insurance, Urgent Care, and the Center for Health Promotion and Wellness. Many students who come to MIT have never made their own doctor’s appointments and don’t know what to expect. This shared understanding makes it much easier for students to get the care they need when they need it.

We have made progress, but we have more work to do. There are still some barriers that we can overcome together. Some students erroneously believe that you have to have MIT insurance to use MIT Medical. Not so! Every student is welcome. Another barrier we are concerned about is fueled by stories about unsatisfactory care. A student with a serious illness might delay getting care because of what they heard third or fourth hand about MIT Medical’s reputation.

No health care system is perfect, and we want any of our patients who have a concern to contact us so we can address issues directly as they arise. We need everyone’s help to reduce these barriers — to let new students know we are available to them and to let any student with a concern know we want to hear about it.

The bottom line is that we are all responsible for creating a healthy community. Each one of us has an important role as a friend, a caregiver, or a leader. The partnership between students and MIT Medical has created an open dialogue. It is up to us to keep it going.

Maryanne Kirkbride is the clinical director for campus life at MIT Medical. She can be reached at kirk@med.mit.edu.