Becoming a better healthcare professional by knowing more about our society and its diversity of backgrounds. With this idea and its implementation, a group of medical students wins this year's Student Societal Impact Award at the Opening of the Academic Year 2022-2023.
Gezondheidsstudenten In De Samenleving (GIDS) is an agency that connects students with parties in society and vice versa. The idea behind this: our society needs socially involved doctors and other health professionals, who do not only make diagnoses based on complaints, but also look at the background and environment of the patient.
Through GIDS, students can gain experience outside the lecture theatre, with which they can make a real contribution to society now and in the future. While they work on their personal development, the students (voluntarily or paid) already help directly with projects that contribute to our society. Medical students Thomas Pereira Horta and Jeanne Arnold are two of the three founders of the GIDS office.
Prof.dr. Charles Boucher
About 3.5 years ago the now deceased professor Charles Boucher planted the first seeds for GIDS, says Thomas Pereira Horta. Boucher was coordinator of the Querido Honours College and inspired students to be socially involved and to dare to think big. Jeanne Arnold adds: "He taught us that as a student you receive a lot from society, just think of the buildings we are allowed to study in. It is therefore nice to be able to give something back during your studies". Moreover, he was an exceptional mentor for the students, who gave them a lot of confidence. He really encouraged them. "What do you want to achieve? Dare to think out-of-the-box and just do it!"
It inspired Thomas Pereira Horta and Jeanne Arnold (then second-year Medicine) to set up a structural collaboration, a kind of employment agency, between students and social partners together with Ayça Cozar (then first-year Medicine).
"As a student you can make an impact already! Even if you think: 'I am just a student', you can already mean a lot to people," Arnold says.
The students of GIDS, from left to right: Lotte van den Aardwegh, Thomas Pereira Horta, Ayça Czar, Fien Lobee, Jeanne Arnold, Chayenne Chinkoe and Elzhara Elkawafi.
"It is precisely the personal encounters outside the student bubble that can be very illuminating and enriching"
Outside your bubble
Arnold explains why she found setting up GIDS so important that she even took a gap year for it: "Medicine is a fairly theoretical study with many facts. By participating as a student in the student pool of GIDS, you can immediately do something with that knowledge alongside your studies". Both students advocate that students, especially medical students, come out of their bubble: there is so much to learn. Arnold: "As a student, you quickly live in a student bubble, while the personal encounters outside that bubble can be very instructive and enriching.
"It is also important to learn about other factors that can play a role in someone's health. Poverty, low literacy, the living environment or lifestyle, for example", says Pereira Horta. "Once you've seen what that means in practice, you never forget it," Arnold adds.
Engaging in conversation
She saw a clear example of this in 2021, when she and a team of GIDS students went to Delfshaven to talk to young people about corona and vaccination: "During the discussions, I became even more aware of the importance of empathising with others. Whereas in the world of a medical student it's very logical that a virus can be transmitted from animal to human and thus cause a pandemic, in the world of someone without a biomedical or scientific background, economic motives are much more plausible. By being aware of this, more room is created for an open and equal dialogue".
Pereira Horta's example is also about mutual understanding: "I came into contact with a neighbourhood manager in the Tarwewijk (Charlois). The conversations with him taught me a lot about the world of people living in poverty. When you have money worries, there are so many other things to think about. Many people don't have the space to worry about healthy eating, let alone the financial means to do so. At the same time, there are still new requests for snack bars in the middle of the district".
"We have also learned that as a researcher or policy maker it is extremely important to enter into dialogue with the people concerned as early as possible," Arnold says firmly. "This prevents you from coming up with solutions and plans for the neighbourhood that are not in line with the wishes and possibilities of the people who live there".
The Student Societal Impact Award comes with prize money of €4,500. The two board members of the first hour are enthusiastic about the ideas of the second board for spending it. One possibility is to spend the money (partly) on more cooperation. "We have changed the name of GIDS from Medicine Students In Society to Health Students In Society," says Pereira Horta. "We would like to collaborate more with, for example, Obstetrics, Physiotherapy, Health Policy & Management students, so with Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and with the faculty of ESHPM [Erasmus School of Health Policy Management, ed.]
The other ideas for the destination of the prize money are a nice event for the professionals they work with and teaching materials for the education GIDS provides. "For example, we do this at resuscitation courses run by Taskforce QRS in Rotterdam. Then we talk about lifestyle and health and how to prevent the situation where resuscitation is needed".
The students would like to dedicate the prize to Charles Boucher: "Without him, the GIDS Bureau would not have existed".
For Lieke, Yara, Daan and Naomi who will form the GIDS board in this new academic year (together with board member Elzhara, who will stay on for another half year), winning the prize is a very nice start. "It will definitely give them and GIDS an extra boost," says Pereira Horta.
Student Societal Impact Award
During the Opening of the Academic Year, the Student Societal Impact Award is presented to a person or group that has shown exceptional leadership by starting and executing a project with a demonstrable positive impact on society. The award, which consists of €4,500, is made possible by the Erasmus Trustfonds.