UT Southwestern community joins together for United to Serve

By Cory Lukens

Participants in the eighth annual United to Serve event got to take part in a multitude of free health-related activities and came away with valuable information about how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

But the 450 student volunteers from UT Southwestern Medical Center came away with something, too: A sense of community service and an opportunity to bond together.

United to Serve, first held in 2004, is organized and hosted by UT Southwestern students, with a major assist from faculty members and medical center staffers. The students take a fun and hands-on approach to educating and engaging event participants on topics within their fields of study.

United to Serve 2012 photo
Third-year medical student Stephanie Bezner (right) talks with Shamika Jones and her son, Damion Quigley, 1, about the importance of colon screenings.

Chloe Williams, a first-year medical student, said the students were excited to see a year’s worth of planning come to fruition.

“It is a great opportunity for us to talk to people in the community and educate them on healthy lifestyles,” Ms. Williams said, explaining that kids often do not learn the basics of how to stay fit and the importance of healthy eating.

Led by event co-chairmen Emily Smitherman and Ladan Agharokh, both fourth-year medical students, the student volunteers transformed T.J. Rusk Middle School near Dallas Love Field into a first-class health fair, with immuniza tions, school sports physicals, preven tion education, and more.

Ms. Smitherman, who received the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship for Community Service Award at UT Southwestern, and Mr. Agharokh became interested in United to Serve after attending a recruitment meeting as first-year medical students.

At the T.J. Rusk event, the medical students organized themselves by T-shirt colors. Bilingual students wore red shirts; English-only speakers wore white shirts; and team leaders stood out in blue.

The expo served more than 700 participants from around the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Over the years, it has grown into an annual event for many families who rely on United to Serve for their medical care.

In addition to the health component, an array of educational and financial services were offered, including dental exams, nutritional meal plans, and a demonstration of the importance of hand-washing. A popular activity with kids was learning how to suture – they practiced stitching on real pig feet.

More on United to Serve 2012

Check out another article we posted on United to Serve Health Fair Aims to Dispel Myths.

Dora Martinez came from Mesquite to attend United to Serve. She heard about the health fair through her children’s school.

“I wanted to get screened for diabetes because many in my family have it,” said Ms. Martinez, whose family has no access to regular health care. Her 14- year-old son also was screened for diabetes. A medical student will follow up with him through a related program called Health Awareness.

To advertise the event, volunteers passed out 75,000 fliers to local free clinics, churches, and schools. Area radio and TV stations, such as Univision, also helped promote the event.

Cesar Bustamente of Addison was diagnosed with high blood pressure and was given instructions to exercise more and eat better.

“It’s hard to do, day-in and day-out,” Mr. Bustamente admitted.

Many of those who attended stopped by the medical museum – an interactive and educational tour of the human body from head to toe – complete with Cardiovascular Boule vard, Gastroin testinal Lane, and Musculoskeletal Way. On Neurology Street, kids plugged their noses while eating Starbursts and tried to guess the flavor.

Dat Le, a fourth-year medical student and veteran volunteer of United to Serve, sported blue hair and a tie-dyed shirt in his role as the “Mad Scientist” in the Magic Science Show, one of the event’s most popular components. He said his goal is to demonstrate to kids that science is cool.

“Our ultimate goal is to improve the overall health of Dallas,” Mr. Le said.

Inside the Rusk gymnasium, United to Serve volunteers constructed a model home, including a kitchen and living area. Participants toured the home and learned about appropriate places to store medication and the importance of smoke detectors. Guides pointed out hazards such as space heaters too close to curtains and blinds with cords that could strangle children.

To exit the house, participants were encouraged to jump out the make-shift window into an oversize bean bag – replicating what to do in case of a house fire.

“I enjoy getting to know the other students who I don’t interact with on a daily basis,” said Cara Dennert, a nutrition graduate student, as she handed out low-calorie yogurt parfait samples made with artificial sweetener and real fruit. “We all come from such different backgrounds, and it’s reward ing to share a common goal.”

UT Southwestern students and faculty agree that volunteering is an essential component in the already rigorous medical education that students receive.

“The opportunity for all students to take advantage of this volunteer project, whether they are a medical or graduate student, makes UT Southwestern a great place to go to school,” said Cheng-ting Lee, a first-year medical student.