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Med Student's Deep Dive into Puerto Rican Community History Shapes Her Medical Education

May 25, 2021

Mary Marchese is a medical student in the Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health (PURCH) Track at UMMS-Baystate, Class of 2023. She was also born at Baystate Medical Center and grew up in the Springfield area.

Last summer, Mary worked with the Wellness on Wheels (WOW) Bus team sharing information about COVID-19 and providing COVID-19 testing in several communities around Springfield, including at a site in the Brightwood neighborhood that predominantly serves the Latino/a/x community. (Photo: Street art in Springfield alludes to the dual identity celebrated by many in the Puerto Rican community. Credit: Richard Norman PhD)

She was also participating in a pilot test of the Interprofessional Health Equity Incubator (IHEI)—an optional summer enrichment program for PURCH students that aims to develop their knowledge and skills in health equity solution theory and practice.

Deep Dive into Community History, Culture, Context

Mary Marchese PURCH Class of 2023The IHEI module Mary tested was designed to give students a deep dive into concepts around building relationships with patients that were introduced in her Doctoring and Clinical Skills course.

The module teaches students how to begin building relationships with the community they serve by first learning about community history, culture, and context.

As part of her role on the WOW Bus team, Mary explored the legacy of Puerto Rican populations in Brightwood and the greater Springfield area.

How Her Journey Shaped Her Medical Education

She created an exhibit for Baystate's Arts Alive Gallery that uses historical images and self-reflection to tell the story of her journey as she learned about Puerto Rican history with the U.S., and how her new understanding has shaped her medical education.

“My reflections in this exhibit intend to demonstrate how understanding community history, culture, and context helps medical trainees to consider the historical underpinnings of current health disparities," said Mary, "So that they can ultimately provide the most effective, culturally accessible care to patients.”

Poster for Puerto Rican Immigrants

Image: This poster describes services for those thinking about migrating from Puerto Rico. ~47,000 people/year came to the continental U.S. in the 1950s, many to work on tobacco farms in the Connecticut River Valley.

Reflection: In considering how outreach from public agencies helped to inform Puerto Ricans in rural areas about economic, emigration, and health services, I drew a parallel to how government and community organizations share information in current times regarding similar services with our communities locally and nationally.

Finding culturally and linguistically accessible materials from trusted sources is paramount to fostering safe, healthy communities, particularly among those of Puerto Rican descent and other Latino/a/x heritages who have historically encountered barriers to health equity...

 > See Mary Marchese's entire exhibit (pdf)

More Information

Richard Norman, PhD's "Our Plural History" (a project of Springfield Technical Community College) is an examination of the idea of pluralism, particularly immigrant and ethnic groups in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts.

Dr. Norman is also guest faculty in the PURCH Doctoring and Clinical Skills course.