Parents who have a child diagnosed with autism can be overwhelmed with emotions and questions. What does diagnosis mean? How should I support my child? who should they talk to?
For the past six years, MIT undergraduates have worked with the Boston Medical Center’s Autism Program to help individuals and families meet these challenges.
Organized and funded by MIT’s PKG Public Service Center, this initiative allows students to work full-time at BMC for four weeks in January, providing patient care, education, and community-based outreach to individuals and families. Offers.
The program offers students the opportunity to immerse themselves in healthcare while supporting the efforts of local non-profit hospitals to improve health equity.
“Because BMC is a public hospital, the families it serves are typically low-income and come from a wide variety of backgrounds,” said Vippy Yee, associate dean of PKG’s community-based programs. says. “Our students can be excellent and well-trained when working with patients in such an environment, but patients live in a society with health problems that limit their access to care.” They quickly learn that there are social determinants of: the type of care they need, and their health. .”
Following a series of workshops and onboarding that provide context on health equity and other issues, student teams will conduct projects such as interviewing families, developing educational resources, and enhancing websites and other software systems. work on.
Alex Friedman, Program Manager, BMC Autism Program, said: “We can think about the trickiest problems and know that the brightest students will come and solve them. helps us start the year in a strong and positive way and really grow our program.”
Student commitments often extend well beyond a four-week internship. For example, during this year’s program, her first-year student Srihitha Dasari was invited to continue her work and is now employed in the program through the PKG Community She is based in the Commonwealth Vocational Studies Program.
This partnership will enable students to gain a deeper understanding of the inner workings of hospitals and the wider U.S. healthcare system through the lens of improving health equity.
“This position really helps students diversify their interests and diversify their experiences,” says Dasari. “We can work with vulnerable populations, directly observe patient caregiver interactions, and also see the public health dynamics tied to any healthcare setting.”
Drinking from a BMC Fire Hose
Since the program began six years ago, the team at the PKG Center has sought to engage undergraduates in the program based on their passion for helping people.
“Students don’t need to have a lot of experience with the healthcare system or autism,” Yee explains. “We are looking for students who are genuinely passionate about working in autism programs. Students who can prove they are doing this because they care.
Following the selection process, the PKG Center will begin preparing students for the program in early November. Boston Medical Center will also be involved during this period. Boston Medical Center conducts extensive screening and onboarding of employees, including training in systems used, communications, safety, and more.
Once the program begins, students work four 40-hour weeks and have weekly reflective dinners with PKG Center staff. This gives you the opportunity to process your experience and explore how you can incorporate social change and social justice initiatives into your future career and academic interests.
Daily tasks are determined by the needs of BMC’s autism program, but often involve direct interaction with patients and families. Students are also required to participate in training, rounds, clinical observations, and are invited to BMC’s weekly research reviews.
“It’s very fast-paced,” Friedman says. “It’s not easy. Students enter a very busy hospital environment, where they are expected to jump in with both feet and learn as they go. Things can be stressful, but that’s what we want.” We support our students, but consistently our MIT cohorts always rise to the occasion. The work they undertake is very important, very impactful, and when we complete our program, we are consistently much stronger than before they joined us.”
Dasari likes being able to see the results of her work every day. One of the projects she worked on tasked her with developing resources to enable clinicians less familiar with autism to provide care for people with autism. Another multi-year initiative for MIT students is adding resources to family-friendly educational web pages. This website is recognized as an important resource by a leading advocacy group called Autism Around the Globe. Similarly, students have also created a mobile app that can guide a child with autism through the experience of seeing a doctor through interactive storytelling.
“Each year, MIT students support and enhance our direct patient care, support and enhance our program operations, how to make our programs more marketable, and how to use the data we collect. We think about how to use it and are involved in our research efforts,” Friedman said. Say. “Their contribution each year is unique in some ways and in others builds on the legacy of his MIT cohorts in the past.”
Improve health care for all
The program supports one of the PKG Center’s primary goals of addressing health equity. More broadly, it supports MIT’s mission to work towards a better world. Yee believes that work should start locally.
“It’s important for MIT to demonstrate its commitment to the community it belongs to,” says Yee. “Students are increasing the capacity of BMC. They are reaching out to families who may not have had direct personal attention, bringing their own energy and insight to projects, and understanding the human side of medicine. I am starting to.”
Along the way, we hope this experience will help students use their unique abilities throughout their lives to improve healthcare systems around the world.
“Being able to integrate social impact into our existing and evolving interests is a big highlight of this program,” says Dasari. “I’m pre-treatment. I could have gone the traditional route and done research and tracked down doctors and such, but what I can do is respond to patients and improve access to healthcare for vulnerable people.” , is what matters to me and is working toward important goals for the entire healthcare industry.”