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Medical student organization receives national award

by Carolyn Pennington - March 23, 2009

The UConn chapter of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), the nation’s largest independent medical student organization, has been awarded the prestigious 2009 Paul R. Wright Award for Excellence in Medical Education.

It’s the first time UConn medical students have received this award, which was presented at the AMSA’s annual convention in Arlington, Va., earlier this month.

The Paul R. Wright Award recognizes a medical school, chosen by the nation’s medical students, whose exemplary achievements in medical education foster the development of socially responsive physicians.

The area of concentration changes each year to highlight a different dimension of medical education. The 2009 award focuses on local advocacy and activism.

The UConn medical students were honored for their initiative toward achieving high quality, affordable health care for all. In October, they presented an event that raised awareness in the community and provided important leadership training for local medical students.

The event gathered a cross-section of the Hartford community, including health care providers, students from a wide range of disciplines including the health professions, state legislators, city officials, teachers, community leaders, and individuals from the creative arts community.

Medical students Erica Hinz, Teresa Doucet, Shan Shan Jiang, and Shubha Venkatesh spent a year planning the event.

“At times, it was very difficult to balance event planning with our school work,” says Hinz.

“However, we felt it was too important an issue at too critical of a time to give it up. Now this award from AMSA makes all the work even more rewarding.”

More than 150 people attended the event, which took place at Real Art Ways in Hartford. Along with artwork and multimedia presentations, speakers included Dr. Laurel Baldwin-Ragaven, a family physician in Hartford and human rights scholar at Trinity College; small business owner Kevin Galvin of Connecticut Commercial Maintenance; and Carlos Rivera, Hartford’s director of health and human services.

They noted that the event called much-needed attention to a critical issue.

“The oft-quoted statistic that 47 million Americans lack health insurance is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in Hartford,” says medical student Doucet.

“Approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of residents of the so-called insurance capital of the world are uninsured, and twice as many are underinsured. As medical students, we’re doing what we can to raise awareness and advocate for change.”

Jiang says, “For us, the event was just the first step. The award reinforces our resolve to take this further. We’re focusing on improving not only the health of the individual, but the health of the community in which the individual lives.”

The award is named in honor of Paul Wright, executive director emeritus of AMSA. Along with the organization’s student leadership, Wright helped AMSA become the nation’s largest, independent association of physicians-in-training and a powerful force in advancing the healthcare industry.

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