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J Med Educ Curric Dev. 2017 Nov 15;4:2382120517737995. doi: 10.1177/2382120517737995. eCollection 2017 Jan-Dec.

Increasing Medical Trainees' Empathy Through Volunteerism and Mentorship.

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Department of Internal Medicine, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
Department of Internal Medicine-Cardiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
Medical School, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.



Within medical education, there have been recent calls for increased understanding and exposure to poverty to increase trainees' empathy toward the underserved. Students participating in Michigan Cardiovascular Outcomes Research and Reporting Program research program volunteered at World Medical Relief (WMR) in Detroit, Michigan, a nonprofit organization which recycles medical equipment for developing countries and within greater Detroit. Participants' perceptions of the underserved were measured before and after the experience.


Preliminary questionnaires were given to participants prior to and after exposures at WMR. Questionnaires examined participants' attitudes toward the underserved, knowledge of medical supply reuse, and their perceived ability to impact change. P values of <.025 were considered significant.


A total of 39 participants completed the survey, 77% previously volunteered, 33% had volunteered internationally. Participants were >4× more likely than previously to have knowledge of the variety of recycled medical supplies at WMR. Prior to volunteering, 48.7% of participants gave little thought to how excess medical supplies could be collected versus 0% after exposure. Participants were 1.5× more likely to agree that the experience was enhanced working with their peers and 2.7× more likely to consider starting their own organization/intervention for medical supply donations. Those participants that never previously volunteered were 1.3× more likely to do so with encouragement from a mentor.


Encouraging exposure to such service programs resulted in enhanced knowledge of community resources and increased motivation to participate in outreach and belief of individual responsibility to care for the underserved. Incorporating volunteerism into traditional education programs offers the opportunity to build awareness and interest in students reaching out to the underserved.


Medical education; medical reuse; mentorship; underserved

Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of conflicting interests:The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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