The East Harlem Walking Tour
A Long Walk in Learning of Patients as a Community
A Social Cultural Experience for First-Year Medical Students
During the Spring of 2003, a small group of medical students who were members of the Student Advisory Committee to the Culture and Diversity in Medicine program at Icahn School of Medicine approached Gary Butts, M.D., director of the Center for Multicultural & Community Affairs (CMCA) to propose an idea of organizing a walking tour of the East Harlem community for the incoming class of medical students. The idea was novel and completely made sense. For these students, what was missing for themselves in their training as medical students was being connected to the community. What was not realized then was that this idea would turn into the first step in a long walk in learning how to treat patient as community.
The initial walking tour map was developed by Myra Alperson of Noshwalks and CMCA recruited and trained faculty members as tour guides. In the summer of 2003, the first walking tour took place during orientation week for the incoming class as an optional activity to participate in. The tour was designed to give students a first hand perspective to the historical and cultural richness of East Harlem, better known as Spanish Harlem, and become familiar with the community they would be trained in for the next four years.
Known as the East Harlem Walking Tour since 2003, this activity has become an official medical school orientation event. Over a 120 students and approximately 20 Upperclassmen, faculty, and a handful of East Harlem community partners who participate as tour guides venture off for an afternoon on a hot summer day in August to walk the neighborhood, nosh along the way, and have a discussion about the historical and present day transformation of the community. The tour has evolved into providing incoming first year students a social cultural experience of East Harlem where they can begin to develop knowledge and awareness of community health and cultural diversity; be exposed to a medically underserved community; as well as become informed about health disparity issues through community interaction and engagement.
The tour route is always a work in progress. Every year the tour route is reviewed to include new establishments and historical landmarks. While there are lots of turns along the way, the perimeter of tour is starts at the entrance of the hospital at East 100th Street and Madison Avenue and extends as far east as Pleasant Avenue, as far north as East 116th Street, proceeding west to Fifth Avenue and then south where the tour ends at the entrance of the hospital on Fifth Avenue; the tour takes many turns.
With all the wonderful things students had a chance to see and experience, it is important that they are knowledgeable about the health disparity issues that exist in this community. At the end of the tour, students, with the facilitation of faculty and staff, had an opportunity to debrief and reflect on their experience. After the three hour tour, the students have engaged in a conversation about the richness and the reality of living in East Harlem. They have become aware of the impact of community on individual health and illness and begin to gain an understanding of the social determinants of health, especially for East Harlem residents. This tour marks the beginning of a long walk they will take of the next four years of their training and education as physicians who be able to know what it means to treat patient as community.
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