In the nine months since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S., medical students across the country have had to deal with tough issues that have upended their usual studies.
In addition to managing their own complex situations, a selected group of elected members of the Organization of Student Representatives (OSR) for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) have stepped up on behalf of their classmates to communicate and improve the medical student perspective on medical education.
Whitney Stolnicki, a student in the College of Medicine, was recently elected as one of five delegates representing the Central Region. Alongside students from the University of Kansas, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University and Western Michigan University, she will advocate for her peers. “With representatives from each medical school, there is a cohort of leaders advocating for positive change in diversity, testing, education, communications, and much more,” explains Stolnicki.
This past year, OSR has faced several challenges that this group of passionate students has responded to, says the third-year medicine student: “The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted quick changes and safety measures, such as pausing Step 2CS [a component of the United States Medical Licensing Examination] and event testing for National Board of Medical Examination and USMLE, and assuring use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) by medicine students across the nation.”
Diversity-related movements surged after the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more, observes Stolnicki, noting, “The OSR is advocating for increased diversity in the medical field as well as betterment of treatment and rights for our fellow Black Americans.”
Geriatrics and more
Hard work and honors keep on coming for Stolnicki, who grew up in Holland, Ohio, a small community near Toledo. This student has an interest in teaching and working in medical education in the future. She also has an eye on a career working with the geriatric population, as well as people with developmental disabilities – perhaps including work in neurology.
The summer after her first year at NEOMED, Stolnicki was selected to participate in the Medical Student Training in Aging Research (MSTAR) program, administered by The American Federation for Aging Research and the National Institute on Aging. Stolnicki was placed in the public health and otolaryngology department at Johns Hopkins University. At the internationally recognized Baltimore institution, her research focused on the effects of functional hearing impairment and patient-provider communication on frequency of hospitalizations – as well as on how to improve communication methods among caregivers and older adults.
Last May, Stolnicki received a scholarship from the Budd and Alice Meyers Scholarship Endowment through NEOMED – an award intended to enhance the understanding of patient-centered care, specifically the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and the roles of physicians and pharmacists in caring for these patients.
Student-Run Free Clinic claims loyalty
One consuming focus for Stolnicki outside of her studies has been the Student-Run Free Clinic at NEOMED, which recently was named the 2020 Free Clinic of the Year by Ohio’s Charitable Healthcare Network.
Currently, Stolnicki is co-quality improvement and research coordinator as well as assistant clinic chief.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Northeast Ohio last March, Stolnicki helped spearhead a hybrid COVID-19 model for the clinic. She and Cooper Johnson (another third-year College of Medicine student) have developed and coordinated guidelines and a tracking system for all quality improvement and research related projects.
“We are currently in the process of helping Student-Run Free Clinic volunteers gain acceptance to present their hard work at the Society of Student-Run Free Clinic National Conference in March 2021,” she says.
A state of mind
The outgoing Stolnicki keeps involved in a variety of student organizations. Currently, she serves on the NEOMED Student Council and as a peer tutor, as well as chair for the resource committee on the Peer Advisor Executive Committee and the executive committee for the Business and Leadership in Medical Practices interest group.
“I’ve learned that being positive is a state of mind, not a state of circumstances. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the stress of medical school alone, this perspective has been challenged. I frequently am reminding myself to stay in the present moment. To do this, I tend to my house plants, draw and embroider, laugh with my friends and family, and sometimes just catch up on sleep,” she says.