Like most osteopathic medical schools, Des Moines University participates in a national volunteer recognition program called T.O.U.C.H. I completely forgot what that acronym actually stands for, but the idea is that T.O.U.C.H. is a system designed to reward students who go above and beyond the requirements of their curriculum and use their time in medical school to impact their community for the better. Those who conduct more than 50 hours of volunteer service receive a silver pin and a certificate of recognition, while those who achieve more than 100 are given the “Gold” equivalent. Now, I’m writing about this program for two reasons: 1) I had no idea this even existed before coming to DMU and would have liked to have gotten a jump on it, and 2) to extol the virtues of DMU in terms of opportunities for T.O.U.C.H.
The T.O.U.C.H. program is recognized across the country. Most osteopathic medical schools have one, and most residency programs (D.O. and M.D. alike) are at least familiar with it. DMU, however, presents some interesting opportunities for students looking to receive a T.O.U.C.H. award in order to gain the upper hand in applying to residencies. For one thing, a unique aspect of the DMU curriculum is the fact that our physical diagnosis class is relatively early in the program. That means that by the end of our first year, we’re already able to conduct a thorough history and physical. Even if we aren’t yet familiar with all the clinical medicine or treatment options from the second-year systems courses, we can at least provide valuable assistance to local free clinics or health fairs. Oftentimes, the attending physician will give us modest autonomy in being the first to see a patient, take vitals, ask the right questions and begin the physical exam. Some medical students don’t get such opportunities until their third-year rotations (when they’re being evaluated).
Another nice feature of DMU is its prime location. Des Moines is, after all, Iowa’s capital and most populous city. This means that most of the Iowa chapters of major health-interest groups have headquarters in or around our neighborhood. Furthermore, whenever there’s a need to raise political awareness with a major outreach event, Des Moines is a prime target. So what does that mean for us? Well, when the Iowa chapter of the American Lung Association hosts its “Fight for Air” stair climb, it’s right here in Des Moines. When Iowa’s branch of the American Diabetes Association launched its first “Tour de Cure Bike Race” this year, it was right here in Des Moines. And whenever there’s a “race for the cure” for AIDS, cancer, emphysema or whatever else you can think of in Iowa, guess which city it’s in? And with all these runs/bike races/stair climbs, of course, there’s an obvious need for medical personnel and dedicated little osteopathic medical students to provide first aid or OMM treatments (as in our famous Osteopathic Finish Line events – OFLs for short). We are, to my knowledge, one of the only (if not THE only) medical school in which students are able to perform OMM treatments on actual patients in our first two years (and my first OFL was in the first month of class). There are almost always two or more such events every month in Des Moines.
Additionally, Iowa has always been known for its famous educational system. Notice that the back of the Iowa state quarter features a school house in testament of this fact. Additionally, even back home in Pennsylvania, I too took “the Iowa Test of Basic Skills” in elementary school. A guest speaker from Iowa State University summarized it thusly (to a group of high school students visiting campus): “Based on standardized testing scores, it’s often said that America trails much of the world in terms of education…but if you were to remove Iowa from the U.S. and treat it as an independent country, its educational system would place #2 in the world by the same standards.” I don’t know how he got such numbers, but I knew he was right after hearing the high school students’ responses. One inquired: “Wait, on what data was that conclusion based?” Others piped in with “Yeah, I’d like to see the primary literature” and “What was their sample size?” (Seriously, I wish I was kidding.) Now, with all this excellent preparation for higher education and career placement, these students pay lots of visits to local colleges and professional schools early on in their schooling. And who, you might be wondering, will eagerly open their doors to educate such bright minds about the virtues of a career in medicine? Why, DMU, of course, with our “Exploring Post 141” program and “Community Ambassadors Program,” in which DMU students are actively involved in representing our respective programs. When they don’t come to us, we often visit them (as in our “What’s in a Doctor’s Bag?” program for explaining medical instruments to elementary students).
Now, as delightful as it is to have that T.O.U.C.H. certificate hanging on the fridge, or our gold and silver pins affixed to our white coats, working in the community is its own reward. It gives us a chance to remember where we’re headed – a reminder that there will indeed be a life after medical school. Sometimes, when you’re memorizing microbes or chemical pathways for hours on end, you may often ask yourself, “Now, why is it that I’m here, again?” or “Why was it that I wanted to be a doctor in the first place?” Then, after you help an impoverished man at the free clinic get payment assistance for his hypertension meds, you find your answer.