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Dozens of dignitaries, supporters and grateful guests turned out Wednesday afternoon at Vallejo’s Cooper Elementary to recognize the 100th Touro CARES MVP clinic.
The clinics kicked off May 15, 2020 just as the MassVax events at the Vallejo fairgrounds were winding down. MVP, or Mobile Vaccine Program, grew from the MassVax effort where Touro volunteers, along with support from Kaiser Permanente, Solano Public Health, Medic Ambulance, NorthBay Medical, and Sutter Health, helped vaccinate more than 100,000 people when the COVID vaccines first hit the market.
MVP developed as a way to take the vaccination effort to underserved communities and vulnerable populations throughout Solano County to reach people with healthcare access hurdles.
Since the first vaccine clinic, MPV has help provide service to more than 6,500 guests, administer nearly 4,500 vaccine doses, and benefitted from more than 5,000 volunteer hours.
It was the 100th clinic overall and the 33rd in Vallejo alone. Around 55% of those vaccinated have been children 17 and under.
Funding for the clinics came from Kaiser Permanente, Partnership HealthPlan, and East Bay Community Foundation.
In her comments to the audience gathered at the event, Touro Provost and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Sarah Sweitzer thanked and acknowledged the clinic’s coordinators, Drs. Fatima Hernandez, Denise Yeung, Lucinda Chan, Tami Hendriksz, and Kathy Hahn. She also thanked the student ambassadors and other student volunteers gathered at the event.
Kaiser Permanente’s Dr. Kendra McNeil said in a short address, “working within the community is what we’re all about,” Dr. McNeil recognized the line of people waiting for the clinic to open. “It’s so imperative that we make sure our communities are safe, are protected, and are educated when it comes to COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.”
The Vallejo City Unified School District has been an active partner in many of the clinics. Mitch Romao, Assistant Superintendent, Operations, said the district was grateful for everything the volunteers have done.
“This district is so fortunate to have a medical school literally right down the road,” Romao said. “They truly are remarkable and generous and we cannot say enough about them.” Romao also thanked parents for bringing their children in to get vaccinated to help ensure students can stay in classrooms safely.
Sonja Bjork from Partnership HealthPlan, whose organization serves more than 125,000 Medi-Cal members in Solano County, was thankful the different partners were able to work together to provide this service to the community.
“We are so happy that many (PHP members) have gotten their vaccines through these clinics, including the MassVax clinic.”
With as many as a half dozen clinics happening each week, it won’t take long before MVP reaches the 200 clinic milestone.
On behalf of the Black Interprofessional Student Organization BISO at TUCA, we encourage you to recognize Black History Month this February through thoughtful reflection, purposeful action, and sincere growth. Let us reflect together on how Touro University California’s core values light our footsteps as we walk on a more direct path toward our daily commitment to social justice, intellectual pursuit, and service to humanity.
Black History Month has been an important celebration of the achievements, legacy, and resilience of African Americans in this nation. During this month we reflect and celebrate the rich history of Black leaders, heroes, and survivors. We fully understand that one month is not enough to recognize the numerous contributions made by African Americans in the United States. We dare to state that the celebration should be daily through the active removal of racism and the social, economic, and healthcare disparities that still exist.
The need to celebrate and recognize the importance of our journey so far is more necessary than ever, in that we dare not repeat the mistakes of the past.
As highlighted during the BLM protests in the summer of 2020, we have much more work to be done in reaching Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.
While Black people make up 13% of the United States’ population, they represent only 5% of all physicians and continue to remain underrepresented in medical schools across the nation. This striking disparity contributes to the major gaps in health outcomes including morbidity and mortality that are seen in communities of color, which has been further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic (Black Men in White Coats, 2018). The disparity in healthcare is evident and can be addressed partially by increasing the number of black healthcare professionals to better represent the communities they serve.
“For history to not repeat itself”, we want to take a disruptive path followed by action! The time is now to be active! Moving forward from a generation of enraged to engaged. Engaged in our personal growth, our communities, our nation. As a university we are continuing to create opportunities for brave spaces, diverse populations and serve as a pipeline to secure representative students in our communities. To nurture and develop healthcare educators and future health professionals that have lived experiences in TUC that live, feel, and look like who TUC will serve.
As a part of the celebration this month we will be featuring TUC signature Mentors and Mentees echoing the theme of “Telling Our Own Stories.” Which reflects the African American historical legacy of joining together to share the stories of our ancestors, elders, family members, and our community; and how these stories motivate and empower us in our continued fight for equity and social justice. Mentorships are being showcased as faculty mentors and student mentees, emphasizing how that relationship can help reduce disparities in healthcare and the university. This unique relationship reduces experiences like imposter syndrome and increases the feeling of belonging, validation, and possibility. And for TUC to use our communities as a pipeline to secure representative students in our programs thus TUC’s communities.
As said by President Barrack Obama, “Keep exploring. Keep dreaming. Keep asking why. Don’t settle for what you already know. Never stop believing in the power of your ideas, your imagination, your hard work to change the world.”
Join us in the recognition and celebration of Black History Month!
- Statement from student leaders in BISO and SGA Maryam Omer and Eseosa Aigbuza in collaboration with Equity Officer Anika Lee, and Director of Inclusion Dr. Rolly Kali-Rai.
- The Black Interprofessional Student Organization, a TUC student organization committed to serving the community. One of the main events is providing free blood pressure and blood glucose screenings at Food Faith Fridays (FFF). Food Faith Fridays is a non-profit organization that hands outs free food to the underserved population in Vallejo. BISO has built a relationship with FFF to serve the community. BISO has partnered with Solano Dream to provide blood pressure and blood glucose screenings to the homeless population. The Solano Dream project offers shelter and a balanced meal to homeless people in Solano County. Some programs that BISO hosted last school year were: Food Faith Fridays, Black State of the Union, MLK Day Clean Up Service, Empower Our Black Women conference, and a “De-Stress and Help Yo’self” event.
- BISO link: https://tuc.campusgroups.com/biso/home/
While Touro University California’s different healthcare programs might be divided into different specialties, the basic theme unifying all of them is the students’ general desire to help vulnerable populations.
A new elective being offered, called ‘Street Medicine’ opens the door for students to learn how to treat the most vulnerable of populations, those living in curbside communities, where access even to something as simple as a neighborhood free clinic is inhibiting.
Dr. Michele Bunker-Alberts has spearheaded the effort for this elective, which grew out of her previous experiences with curbside clinics in both Oakland and Vallejo, and more recent work with Project Roomkey.
The obstacles to care for unhoused populations are numerous, Dr. Bunker-Alberts explained.
“I knew this had to be part of the curriculum,” Dr. Bunker-Alberts said. “We can’t just treat people when they come to the clinic.” Often the best way to do that is to take the clinic to them.
The 1-unit elective will feature lectures and clinical hours at various sites, with a percentage of the instruction focused on how to interact with and understand the circumstances affecting people in these curbside communities.
What makes the elective unique for Touro is that it is available to any student enrolled in a health science program, meaning it’s possible and likely students from nursing, medicine, the PA program and pharmacy will all be working collaboratively in these clinical settings.
“These are student-centered courses and they’re sought after,” Dr. Bunker-Alberts said. More than a dozen students have already inquired about the class and there is some consideration to offering the course in a micro credential format, as well.
Along with learning how to work with this population, the students will also have a rare opportunity to work with students from other programs in a way they would in a professional setting.
For the residents of these curbside communities, the opportunity is there to get medical attention that might otherwise be lacking.
“It’s not just about helping to make people not be sick, but standing beside them to help ensure they achieve their goals for health,” Dr. Bunker-Alberts said. “That’s really the big goal.”
Touro University California’s campus is a located on the former Mare Island Shipyard Navy base. Faculty at the Physician Assistant program are hoping that could make some potential students feel right at home.
The PA program recently created an agreement with the California Army National Guard to reserve up to five interview slots for Army National Guard members – provided the prospective students meet the minimum admissions requirements into the program.
PA Program Director Joy Moverley said the interview experience can sometimes be helpful to both the student and program.
“Sometimes the application appears a certain way on paper but then it’s a different situation when you interview them,” Moverley said. “It can be very helpful to talk directly to that person.”
A veteran of the California Army National Guard herself, Moverley wanted to create a pathway to engage this potential pool of students and positively affect the communities where these Guardsmen live.
“I wanted to get more of these citizen soldiers involved in our program,” Moverley said. “Those are the people who are going to stay in the area and serve these communities.”
Moverley hopes this pathway can help serve the program’s mission of training PAs to go into underserved areas, one of which being the veteran’s population. Veterans aren’t always likely to seek out health services but do often prefer to work with other veterans, Moverley said.
The concept gets back to the roots of PA as a profession, which started when military medics returned from the Vietnam War with experience in treating a variety of injuries and trauma but no job opportunities in which to ply those skills.
PA programs sprouted up as a way to quickly gain the academic foundation to match these experiential skills as quickly as possible so these graduates could begin treating patients competently and professionally.
“We’re trying to keep up that tradition,” Moverley said.
The pool is vast locally, with National Guard armories in nearby locations like Fairfield, Concord, Benicia, and Walnut Creek. Guardsmen serve in a similar manner as Reservists, serving over a series of weekends or a week or two at a time and returning to their jobs and communities for the rest of the time.
This pipeline is helpful for both medics and other soldiers interested in the PA profession. “I’ve had conversations with people whose military position is outside medicine. They may serve as an infantry solider or in human resources who are also interested in the working in medicine,” Moverley said.
Aside from a potential interview slot, Guardsmen applicants will otherwise stand the same chances of being accepted into the program.
We’ve probably all heard the phrase, “it takes a village” as it relates to raising children. The same idea is being applied to Carquinez Village; part of a growing ‘Village’ movement intentionally designed to help older adults stay connected to their communities. The model works due to the gracious invested time of our (always looking for more) volunteers who assist with rides, calls, and other help so the members can safely remain in their homes.
Started locally in Benicia, Carquinez Village is expanding into Vallejo. Medical findings are that not only are aging residents happier in the place they call home, but they are also healthier. The archaic concept of moving aging residents into so-called “old folks’ homes” often isolates individuals who desire to remain vibrant and productive right where they presently call home.
Linda Chandler, a volunteer with Carquinez Village, says older adults, ages 60 and up, often feel marginalized as they are ignored by society at large. That might not have seemed like a major social issue decades ago when life expectancies weren’t as long, but it is fast becoming a major problem for this growing demographic for several reasons these days.
The youngest members of the Baby Boom generation aren’t yet even 60, meaning the number of Americans 60 and up is growing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expects the population of Americans 65 and over to be nearly 22% by 2040.
Our existing national reality is designed for people to retire at 65 and then not be around much longer after that, but that just isn’t happening anymore. In fact, a U.S. Census report shows that in the 1980s, there were 1.9 million Americans aged 90 and over. By 2040, that number is expected to be 7.6 million.
The Village Movement is determined to change the idea of older Americans being stored away in assisted living facilities and to recognize that these individuals still have a lot of life and value to add to society beyond the age of 60.
One area some of our local older assisted was with Touro University California’s Physician Assistant program. Assistant Professor Kasaundra Heiberger happened across Carquinez Village and saw an opportunity for her students.
Heiberger has a background in Geriatrics and saw a chance for her students to learn some of the unique traits of older patients.
Carquinez Village members had already had a very positive experience with Touro by working with developers of SolanoConnex, a web-based mental health application. Chandler organized 15 members of the Village to help Beta-test the app to ensure it was user-friendly enough for people who didn’t grow up in the Digital Ag. Their input was critical to ensure access for those who might be unfamiliar with certain types of technology.
Seeing mutual benefit in working with Touro, Chandler began to look for other partnering opportunities. She got her chance not long after when she partnered with Heiberger to have PA students practice medical history using eager Carquinez Village members as the “patients.”.
“All 46 students had a 1-on-1 opportunity with these residents,” Heiberger said. Part of the intent of the medical history project was to demonstrate how challenging the process can be, with several students telling Heiberger they felt they failed the task because they couldn’t do a complete history.
“That’s sort of the point,” Heiberger said. “These patients tend to have a more complex medical history simply because they’ve lived longer lives.”
Chandler believes the experience was a great success. “Just from the people I’ve talked to, they enjoyed it. They were listened to; they felt they had contributed something positive to the learning of the students,” Chandler said. “Each had 35 minutes where another adult was making eye-contact with them and really hearing their concerns.”
Chandler is hopeful that this is just the start of more opportunities for Village members to become involved in community projects. Heiberger hopes at least some of the students will nudge in the direction of Geriatrics, with the need for quality healthcare for this age group expected to grow greatly.
“We’re hoping to partner more with Touro in the future,” Chandler said. “Our members are vibrant; they are eager and interested; and we have a lot to offer.”
You can reach Carqinez with further inquiries or if you would like to volunteer/donate or explore partnering. www.carquinezvillage.org.
Touro University California doesn’t have an official legacy program, but for College of Osteopathic Medicine student-doctor Amrit Banga, that doesn’t matter much.
Banga came to Touro following the footsteps of cousins – one of which graduated from the School of Pharmacy (Ravi Takhar), the other from the Physician Assistant program (Gagan Takhar), and a third the College of Osteopathic Medicine (Simran Atwal). They often joke with one another over which program is the best, but they each agree that Touro was the right choice for them.
It isn’t just the good word of a cousin or two that helped Banga decide on Touro. He had previous experienced while an undergrad at UC Davis that helped push him onto this path. Given those experiences, Touro seemed like a perfect fit.
“After being heavily involved in a student run clinic at UC Davis (Willow Clinic) it became very apparent to me that this was what I wanted to pursue in my life.” Banga said. “I have a very diverse background and a lot of it has always been centered at giving back to my local community and those in need. In fact, Willow clinic truly resembled my interests since it was focused primarily on the transient and homeless population in the greater Sacramento region.”
Through the Masters of Science Medical Health Sciences degree program, Touro students have the opportunity to experience what medical school will be like while first pursuing a master’s degree, which was another factor that drew Banga to Touro.
Touro’s foundation in osteopathic medicine was another strong selling point for Banga.
“I would like to become an osteopathic physician in the future and Touro was a great start for me to get as much exposure as I possibly could. With COVID-19 and other health disparities on the rise I grew more interested in the various osteopathic techniques that can be used to treat them,” he said. “I have always been a hands on learner and I appreciate the mind and whole body perspective that osteopathic medicine promotes.”
And while he can always lean on the experiences of his relatives, Banga has found – like many other TUC students – that there’s a second family to rely on here at Touro.
“I feel a sense of community at Touro,” he said. “It is also exciting to start my own journey here at Touro and make some of my own friends and memories along the way. The faculty and staff are very kind and accommodating to all the students, and I have never felt out of place or lost.”
Becoming a physician is not as simple as it can sometimes seem – you graduate from college and then put in four more years at medical school.
For Touro University California Student Doctor of the Year Samaneh Bolourchi, the road to this accolade has been a difficult but rewarding one.
The doors along her path weren’t always easy to open but the lessons of her hard-working immigrant parents helped her push through those difficulties.
“Persistence and determination were qualities my parents emulated in building their life here as immigrants from Iran,” Bolourchi said. “I am the first woman in my family who has even had the opportunity to study medicine. I am grateful for and motivated by the sacrifices that were made to afford me these experiences.”
In her recommendation letter supporting Bolourchi, College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean Dr. Tami Hendriksz said, “Samaneh embodies an amazing combination of strong leadership and true altruism.”
Her varied activities both on and off campus have painted her as an inspirational leader founded in compassion, diversity, inclusion, social justice and professionalism.
“I could not envision a better representative for our students, our school, or our profession,” Dr. Hendriksz added. “She is beloved by students, staff, faculty, and preceptors. All for great reason.”
Student-doctor Bolourchi has been a source of inspiration and leadership for many of her fellow students in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, a tribute she pays in return to many of them.
“There are countless students that have inspired me throughout this journey and absolutely deserve to be recognized for their contributions to our COM and community,” she said. “I am humbled to have even been considered among them.”
A Bay Area native, being close to home helped Bolourchi maintain a connection with her family, which helped provide a solid support system for dealing what is traditionally a very rigorous graduate school pathway.
However, she also cultivated a very strong support system with her TUC family.
“I feel very fortunate that Touro offers a close knit community that facilitates the development of strong relationships with peers, mentors, faculty, staff and the administration,” she said. Being able to work in the communities neighboring her own hometown was also a strong draw to Touro.
Bolourchi, as is commonly the case with students engaged in rotations, hasn’t yet settled in a definitive career path yet but is instead, fittingly, going where the road takes her.
“At this point I am still keeping an open mind. I have been thoroughly enjoying and appreciating the unique experiences, patient presentations, routines and work environments that each clinical rotation has to offer,” Bolourchi said.
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