Second-year students at the UVM College of Medicine have a unique opportunity to do some hands-on work in the community through a course called Public Health Projects. Students are paired with local organizations to help them meet a need, or answer a research question. The benefits are two-fold: We learn a great deal about public health, and the organizations have a group of enthusiastic and motivated students to help them do their important work! The course runs from May of our first year where we first make contact with our local agency through the following January, when we host a poster session displaying each group’s experience and findings.
My group chose to work with Vermont CARES, an organization dedicated to providing social support services to Vermonters with HIV/AIDS. They are based in Burlington, and each week we meet with Peter Jacobsen, the executive director, and our UVM faculty mentor, Dr. Jerry Larrabee. We are working on a needs assessment survey to see how feasible it would be for Vermont CARES to expand its target population to adults with Hepatitis C. Vermont CARES hopes to provide the same services it already provides for adults with HIV to people living with Hepatitis C. These services could include disease testing, syringe exchange, case management, assistance with housing, and transportation to appointments.
Part of the challenge of our project was starting with a very broad topic, social support for people with Hepatitis C, and narrowing that topic to a research questions that we could answer. After meeting with the infectious disease clinic at The University of Vermont Medical Center, we learned that many patients with Hepatitis C do not want social support services but would rather receive treatment privately with support from their families. A significant subset of the adults with Hepatitis C are IV drug users. We hypothesize that this population may want some social support services and assistance as they go through treatment. Despite recent advances in Hepatitis C treatment, it remains prohibitively expensive. The medications are difficult to tolerate, and in order for the treatment to be effective patients must abstain from drug and alcohol use.
Once we narrowed the scope of our project to IV drug users, a population that is at high risk of contracting Hepatitis C, we designed a survey called “Living with Hepatitis C” to see what support services might be needed. As a result, we distributed surveys at several agencies throughout the state that offer needle exchanges. Next we analyzed the data to see how we and others can be most effective and helpful. We were successful in getting 48 survey respondents from seven different sites across the state. From this data, we found that most participants would benefit from more social service supports, especially emergency financial support. Come check out our other findings at the poster session next January 21!
Schumer’s group and all of the second-year UVM College of Medicine students will be presenting their Public Health Projects at the poster session January 21, at 3:30 p.m. in the Hoehl Gallery.