Bilingual medical center is latest proving ground for pre-health students at Earlham

Earlham College has partnered with Indiana’s only English-Spanish bilingual medical center as part of an annual immersive summer experience for students enrolled in pre-health programs.

Nine students job-shadowed physicians at the Indianapolis-based Alivio Medical Center for one week in May after completing a two-week seminar on campus taught by faculty from the departments of Music, Psychology, Spanish and Hispanic Studies, Chemistry, and Biology. Students learned about health professions, health care disparities, ethics, religion and health, cultural awareness and understanding, and medical Spanish. Students also obtained certification in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.

“It was awesome to be able to work with faculty I never thought I would work with,” says Austin Burt ’22 from Kansas City, Missouri.

“I want to be accepted into a physician assistant program and participate in medical missions abroad after I graduate from Earlham,” he says. “This program was an important step in realizing that goal because it equipped me with new social skills and tips for interacting with patients.”

Students pose for a photograph outside Alivio Medical Center in Indianapolis.

This is the latest program available to pre-health students through Earlham’s Center for Global Health (CGH) and the Earlham Program for an Integrative Curriculum (Epic). Other features of the CGH include a three-week Epic Term to Latin America to participate in public health campaigns, a growing internship and externship program in the United States and abroad, faculty-mentored research, and a paramedicine program in partnership with Reid Health.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for Earlham students to prepare for a career in healthcare serving a diverse patient population,” says Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Chemistry Mike Deibel. “We’re thrilled to partner with the Alivio Medical Center in this capacity and look forward to offering this experience to even more Earlham students in the future.

“Students who participate in this program develop cultural competence and become grounded in humanistic perspectives that make them more holistic, inclusive and effective health care practitioners — regardless of the health career they choose.” 

Seven professors from across all four divisions of the College collaborated with the CGH for the roll-out of the program, including Deibel (Chemistry), Vince Punzo (Psychology), Lori Watson (Chemistry), Peter Blair (Biology), Lindsey McGee (Biology), Pavel Polanco-Safadit (Music), and Juan Gabaldon-Vielma (Spanish and Hispanic Studies).

“It was really incredible to walk into the classroom on the first day and see seven professors sitting across from the nine of us,” says Thalia Lhatso-Suppan ’22, a Biochemistry major from Boulder, Colorado. “One of my favorite experiences was learning about the role of religion and spirituality in medicine. We learned that most patients in Latinx communitieswant to talk with their physicians about spirituality and be given resources about how religion can play a role in their healing process.”

One unique aspect of this program was participating in music rituals associated with Santería, a fusion of Catholic and African folk beliefs that is popular in Cuba and other parts of the world, including the United States.

“We wanted the students to learn about the role of music in medicine in other countries and in Hispanic communities right here in Indianapolis,” says Polanco-Safadit, who is a native of the Dominican Republican. “I know some Santeros and Babalaos and asked them to talk with the students. When they heard them playing the bata drums, the students couldn’t even blink. They had never experienced something like that before.

“It was like being in another country while still being in Indiana,” he says. “The whole program put the students in real-life situations. Sometimes, in college, we try to plan a perfect world for them, but this program made them really face adversity and exposed them to different things. It really made an impact.”

This also broadened the students’ career aspirations.

“I want to go to medical school after Earlham,” Lhatso-Suppan says. “However, shadowing a wide variety of medical professions at Alivio made me more aware of other career options within medicine, such as being a nurse or a nurse practitioner.

“I learned a tremendous amount from a nurse practitioner about holistic care,” she says. “She would often end up diagnosing and treating patients for more than just what they came in for. She listened to everything they had to say and made them a part of decisions about their care. This is something I hope I can be good at someday.”

These types of experiences are available to every Earlham student through Epic. This four-year journey through the liberal arts combines integrates the academic major with transformative learning experiences, including research, study abroad, internships, and leadership development, to prepare students exceptionally well for life beyond Earlham.

A hallmark of the liberal arts experience at Earlham is The Epic Advantage — a funded internship, research experience or project worth up to $5,000 — a level of support that few institutions in the nation can offer.

Media contact

Brian Zimmerman
Director of media relations

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 765.983.1256

We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.
We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.