Newswise — Six Mount Sinai School of Medicine students have been recognized with the prestigious Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Medical Student Service Leadership Project Award for implementing the Human Rights and Social Justice (HRSJ) Scholars Program at Mount Sinai. Recognizing significant health disparities in the local community, these students joined together to develop a curriculum in which select students participate in community service and research projects with the help of a faculty mentor to acquire the skills they need to pursue social justice work in their careers. The students engage in this training while fostering effective, sustainable, and community-driven change in East Harlem.

The award, from the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, will help support the HRSJ Scholars Program students in their partnership with five community-based organizations in East Harlem to improve health care services in several areas, including:

• Impact of the Young Men’s Health Initiative with the East Harlem Community Health Committee (EHCHC): In August 2011, Mayor Bloomberg announced the launch of the Young Men’s Initiative, aiming to connect young black and Latino men to educational, employment, and mentoring opportunities in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods. Medical students will conduct an impact analysis to determine how the initiative might contribute to eliminating disparities between young black and Latino males and their peers.• HIV and Mental Health with Union Settlement Association: HIV-positive patients who receive mental health services may experience barriers to receiving adequate care at one social service agency in East Harlem called Union Settlement due to a limited number of specialists who treat these HIV positive patients. Medical students will help determine the barriers to Union Settlement patients who are HIV-positive and devise an advocacy strategy for patients, peer educators, and care coordinators to improve the accessibility and quality of the patients’ medical care. • Assessing Barriers, Risks, and Opportunities of the HPV Vaccine with Boriken School Health Centers: The HPV vaccine remains underutilized and eligible adolescent patients often miss the opportunity not only to be vaccinated at the ideal time but also to begin a healthy, positive, and safe conversation about sexuality. The project aims to analyze the HPV vaccine on the policy, patient, provider, and community levels in order to clarify the practices already in place and highlight potential possibilities and obstacles with regard to its use.• Other participating organizations include Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS/HIV Research & Treatment, Physicians for a National Health Program, Growing up Healthy in East Harlem Project and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.

The HRSJ Scholars Program is a multidisciplinary effort implemented for the first time in academic year 2011-2012 by second-year medical students. It offers 10-12 first-year students a comprehensive, credit-based curriculum in health equity, human rights, and social justice in five areas: coursework, mentorship, research, service, and career exploration. Under faculty advisors Holly Atkinson, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine; Yasmin Meah, MD, Assistant Professor of Medical Education and Medicine; Anu Anandaraja, MD, Assistant Professor in Pediatrics and Medical Education; and Ann-Gel Palermo, PhD, Assistant Professor in Pediatrics and Medical Education, the HRSJ Scholars Program aims to train students to push the paradigms of translational research and medicine into global and community advocacy, policy, and action. The program is now a joint collaboration between the Department of Medical Education, the Center for Multicultural and Community Affairs, the Global Health Center, and the Physicians for Human Rights student chapter.

“The HRSJ Scholars program gives students the opportunity to explore social injustice in health, and develop skills to advocate for patients and structural change," said Dr. Atkinson. “They have created a community that encourages students to address the intersection of health and human rights. We hope to expand this program to include more students and to promote it widely so it can be emulated at institutions across the country.”

In addition to their service work, HRSJ students are paired with a faculty mentor who works with the student throughout the year to identify or create a social justice research project that may involve working with a local community group or participating in an overseas global health program. Career and academic advice and human rights-based shadowing opportunities from their mentor as well as lectures from physicians who focus on social justice issues, help students learn the steps required to build a career focusing on social justice.

“Mentorship and service are pillars in our students’ education at Mount Sinai. This is evident in programs like our Longitudinal Clinical Experience, in which students work with a faculty mentor to get first-hand exposure to the challenges facing patients with chronic illnesses,” said David Muller, MD, Marietta and Charles C. Morchand Chair in Medical Education and Dean for Medical Education at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “The students who created and participate in HRSJ exemplify our commitment to mentorship and service. Starting their medical career with this training will serve them well in becoming advocates for patients in our local and global community. I am proud that the AOA has recognized them for this innovative program.”

Led by Salina Bakshi, a group of medical students worked from February to August 2011, while they were still first-year students, to develop the five areas of the curriculum. In September, four faculty advisors reviewed 25 applications and by the end of the month, 11 students from the new first-year class had been accepted. Students started classwork in October and were immediately paired with a faculty advisor to discuss their service and research projects, which are conducted throughout the school year and, in some cases, abroad over the summer. The conclusion of the program includes a student symposium to review the research findings and service project results.

“So many students come to Mount Sinai wanting to use medicine as a platform for social change but do not know how to pursue it,” said second-year Mount Sinai student Salina Bakshi, who conceptualized the program. “Our program gives these students a home at Mount Sinai, builds relationships between like-minded students and faculty, and provides the structure students need to be engaged and inspired to continue social justice work throughout medical school and their careers.”

The second-year medical students at Mount Sinai who administered the program and have received this award are Salina Bakshi, Marie Oliva Hennelly, Andrea Jakubowski, and Aisha James, and fourth year students Catherine Bigelow, and Jonathan Giftos. These students also lead the student chapter of Physicians for Human Rights. Upon completion of this school year, four first year scholars who participated will then take over the administration of the program and review applications from new first-year students.

Alpha Omega Alpha is a medical honor society whose mission is to prepare future leaders in medicine and health care. The Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Medical Student Service Leadership Project supports leadership development for medical students through mentoring, observation, and service learning.

About The Mount Sinai Medical CenterThe Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses both The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Established in 1968, Mount Sinai School of Medicine is one of the leading medical schools in the United States. The Medical School is noted for innovation in education, biomedical research, clinical care delivery, and local and global community service. It has more than 3,400 faculty in 32 departments and 14 research institutes, and ranks among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and by US News and World Report.

The Mount Sinai Hospital, founded in 1852, is a 1,171-bed tertiary- and quaternary-care teaching facility and one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. In 2011, US News and World Report ranked The Mount Sinai Hospital 16th on its elite Honor Roll of the nation’s top hospitals based on reputation, safety, and other patient-care factors. Of the top 20 hospitals in the United States, Mount Sinai is one of 12 integrated academic medical centers whose medical school ranks among the top 20 in NIH funding and US News and World Report and whose hospital is on the US News and World Report Honor Roll. Nearly 60,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients last year, and approximately 560,000 outpatient visits took place. For more information, visit

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