MGH Institute students deliver health and service into Charlestown and beyond

Caitlin Clarizia was sitting at a long, rectangular table in the Kennedy Center in Charlestown. Next to the first-year Doctor of Occupational Therapy student was Joanne Leslie, a long-time neighborhood resident. The pair was studiously working on making a Boston Celtics blanket, one of dozens of activities that occurred September 9 during the MGH Institute’s annual Community IMPACT Day event in which more than 500 new graduate students fanned out across Greater Boston during the first week of the fall semester.

“This has been great,” said Clarizia, who was seated next to fellow students Rachel Hickey, DPT ’25, Lyn Belizaire, BSN ’23, and Molly DelGreco, BSN ’23. “Seeing how the skills I’ll be learning put into action, plus being able to see how students in other programs approach working with people, has been a good experience.”

What Clarizia was referring to is interprofessional education, one of the hallmarks of an MGH Institute education, where students learn from and with their classmates in other programs and experience how team-based care results in better patient outcomes.

That was just one of the takeaways from the event, said Dr. Midge Hobbs, director of the school’s IMPACT Practice curriculum, who organized the event. “There’s a community service aspect to this day, of course, but we purposely set up each activity to provide tangible health benefits for people – and that helps students connect the dots with their education,” said Hobbs, who noted this was the first time in three years the event was held live. “That aspect is very important because students are much more aware of the social determinants of health which affects communities. They’re more aware of the environment on a person’s health and wellbeing – whether it’s physical health, emotional health, and mental health. That’s why even cleaning a park has a health benefit because it improves the area where people live and that can make an impact in terms of community well-being.”

Because the IHP is located in Charlestown, most student teams walked to nearby sites in the neighborhood At Harvard-Kent Elementary School, dozens of students in the school’s genetic counseling, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, and speech-language pathology programs conducted fun-filled exercises with the children in the school’s playground and its gym. Squeals of laughter filled the air while the graduate students put the kids through myriad activities. The exercise and activity connection was deliberate: studies show only 25% of children get a healthy amount of physical activity each day.

“It’s really fun to see how the children interact, especially the older ones with the younger ones,” said Stacy Monteiro Mendes, a student in the Master of Science in Nursing program. “One of the kids told me that this was their best day ever.”

Down at the end of the Charlestown Navy Yard was a team at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital working with pet therapy dogs. Like all the tasks and service components of IMPACT Day, this was chosen for a reason: to expose students to how these dogs help patients cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, particularly when hospitalized. The team included nursing students Elsa Allstaedt and Alice Mitchell, and PA student Moorea Spoljaric. Led by Debra Blyth-Wilk, Spaulding’s vice president of quality and safety and chief quality officer and an IHP adjunct faculty member in the School of Nursing, the students observed certified therapeutic recreational specialist Sandra Villante bring therapy dog Zoe into the room of patient Margaret Pfau. Assisting Pfau was Emily Boyle, a 2018 SLP graduate of the Institute.

Several teams were at the Newton headquarters of Cradles to Crayons, a non-profit that distributes needed items to disadvantaged children in the region. 

“It’s exciting and heart-warming to know that I am helping an organizing that helps to support so many children,” Christopher Keyes, a nursing student, as he sorted and packaged donated items in the warehouse. His nursing classmate, Mackenzie Libera, added: “I just moved to Boston and was wondering how to get involved and this is a great way. I love how what we are doing here directly impacts the children within the community.” 

Additional teams painted walls, fixed up equipment, gardened, cleaned up the Esplanade and under the Tobin Bridge, created informational flyers and calendars with tips about physical and mental health wellbeing, and held yoga classes to help older adults have better balance to avoid falling.

“All of these activities are great on so many levels,” said Patricia Peterson, clinical education placement & systems associate in the Department of Occupational Therapy, who led a team making no-sew blankets that will be sent to Project Libra. “Seeing how the students interact with each other and how the group dynamic developed produced some amazing conversations.” 

After teams returned to campus for lunch, a live case rounds interview by a panel of faculty clinicians and clients, that included a question-and-answer session, was broadcast into classrooms. Following that, each team debriefed and worked on a group care assignment – the first of several tasks they will work on throughout the fall semester to reinforce the interprofessional focus of their education. 

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