By Nick Schou, UCI
With acceptance rates averaging around 5 percent, getting into a U.S. medical school can be challenging, and it’s fair to say that pre-med undergraduates don’t exactly have a lot of extra time on their hands. But some UCI students majoring in biological sciences or other pre-med areas have found a way to make a major difference in both their lives and the world around them.
That opportunity has a name: International Medicine, Education and Development. It’s a program for pre-med students at UCI who are interested in volunteering in Orange County as well as countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica. There are currently 40 Anteaters who are members of the program, which was launched in 2007.
IMED is affiliated with a global aid organization called the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children, which exists to increase access to medical care and health education for underserved and underprivileged children, in addition to providing real-world healthcare experience to its members. The nonprofit was founded in 2002 by Vikram Bakhru, then a medical student at George Washington University and now a practicing physician in San Francisco and president and CEO of Innovista Health Solutions. Each year, FIMRC sends more than 700 volunteers around the globe, helping thousands of children, mothers and families.
“We do work both locally and abroad,” says IMED President Alejandro Benitez, a third-year biological sciences major and pre-med student who has been volunteering with the group since his first year at UCI. “In the Irvine area, we work at Turtle Rock Elementary School as well as the YMCA and Fountain Valley Regional Hospital. Some of the topics we deal with include mental health, hygiene, how to deal with emotions, the human body and body image.”
IMED also has a strong international component, particularly in Latin America. In Mexico, members are volunteering at the Rayito de Luz (Ray of Light) Orphanage in Tijuana and have raised more than $1,400 for the facility. “We go to Mexico about twice a quarter to work with the orphanage,” Benitez says. “We take the kids donation money and give them educational presentations.” The most recent trip took place on May 13.
Via other nonprofit organizations that work abroad, IMED members seeking clinical experience at foreign hospitals also travel to other countries, such as Peru and India.
One of IMED’s most noteworthy projects is HealthSmart, a partnership with local after-school programs in Orange County that teaches students about health-related topics like first aid, nutrition and mental health. As part of HealthSmart, IMED is currently providing virtual volunteer help with three classes at Kaiser Elementary in Costa Mesa.
Another important project is Healing Art Recreational Therapy 4 All. Through HART 4 All, volunteers go to hospitals in Orange County and Los Angeles County to provide art therapy sessions to patients, who are typically children. Finally, IMED has a partnership with Spirit League, which helps children with disabilities play school sports such as soccer, basketball and baseball.
Aside from the impact that UCI’s IMED program has on the lives of people it touches, it’s also clearly transformative for members – joining passion with knowledge and preparing pre-med students to act as empowered agents of change, ready to shape the future of medicine.