Attending medical school isn’t just about holing up in the library and being a doctor isn’t just about endless research in a lab.
Medical student Jason Frankel was busy Saturday sanding and painting siding for a Hillside Avenue house in Schenectady.
“When you become a doctor, you’re not doing research all the time,” said the third-year Albany Medical College student. “You’re helping people try to solve their problems, sitting down and talking to them about their social issues. So getting to know your community is a big part of that.”
Frankel got to know one piece of his community with 17 other Albany Med students Saturday at the Hillside house undergoing construction by Habitat For Humanity volunteers. More than 150 students and faculty joined Frankel at Albany Med’s second annual Day of Service, held at nine different locations throughout the Capital Region.
The wide range of volunteer events were designed to give incoming first-year students a chance to get to know each other — generally in a sweaty, informal atmosphere — while helping the community that will be home for the four years they are in medical school.
Habitat For Humanity construction manager Anne Rockwood didn’t really have a moment to spare Saturday. Students approached her every minute asking what they could do next.
“Could you just rake it out for now and tamp it down a little bit?” she said to one inquiring student.
“This is like being in a triage unit in Vietnam and not having the tools you need. You always got to improvise,” she said, handing the student a pair of work gloves.
Albany Med students have helped at the Hillside home for the last three years, laying a foundation last August and painting rooms Saturday. She used an aspiring plastic surgeon to do some taping last year. He joked that he was practicing his skin grafting skills.
“They have a difficult schedule once they get into school,” Rockwood said. “I think it ends up being for some like a bonding experience. It’s a good way to introduce them to the surrounding area and get out of Albany.”
To remind herself of the things she did to get into medical school, Sheena Gupta spent her Saturday painting and refurbishing a community store.
She has two more years ahead of her to pore over textbooks at the Albany Medical School library. So the co-organizer for the Day of Service likes to use the mid-August event as a way for first-year students to appreciate why they tried so hard to get into medical school in the first place.
“That’s a big thing we try to teach the students,” Gupta said. “I think people work so hard to get into medical school that once they’re here, they work so hard and forget about the importance of why they wanted to be doctors. It’s really easy to sit in the library and try and memorize everything in front of you until midnight. But then you realize those extra hours don’t really define your ability to be a good physician.”
Pockets of students volunteered Saturday at various Albany locations. Some refurbished a South Swan Street store that would eventually be a shopping center for the homeless. Others baked food for families staying at Ronald McDonald House. A group planted new gardens in the Capital District Community Gardens. In Slingerlands, one group helped prepare 2-liter plastic soda bottles that would be used to construct a greenhouse at The Children’s School on Fisher Boulevard.
“I saw a real shift in the variety of things to do,” Gupta said. “We had a bigger variety this year because word spread about the event. And I see a different enthusiasm in students this year, too. They were just taking more out of their experiences that really drew them back to becoming a physician.”
It’s important for Justin Rice to be a good steward of the community he lives in, even if it is only temporary. The third-year medical student spent a sunny Saturday inside a massive warehouse organizing donations and cleaning up the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in Albany.
“This sets a really good tone for the future of our school,” Rice said, as first-year students toted brooms, bags and boxes around the warehouse’s steel stock shelves. “They’re becoming a part of the community really quickly and able to feel comfortable going out and becoming a part of Albany.”
He volunteered in a clinic last year, so this year he said he wanted to try his hand at something different.
Luckily for Jackie Murray, volunteer coordinator at the food bank, the day’s volunteers helped her load eight totes of Walmart games for the children at Camp Scully in North Greenbush. The med students first had to go through the games, weeding out and replacing any broken pieces.
“If you look around, anything you see with an orange sticker is something that a volunteer moved,” Murray said. “And for us, volunteers in total — whether it be little kids, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, college students — they’re our backbone. It’s very important to have a lot of these groups come in and help us out.”