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Bridging the Gaps for 25 Years

September 22, 2015

Multi-Institution, Multi-Disciplinary Community Health Internship Program Creates Impactful Experience for Students

When it launched at the University of Pennsylvania in 1991, Bridging the Gaps aimed to combine health-related service in economically disadvantaged communities with the education of future health and social service professionals. Just five years later, the initiative grew to a city-wide collaborative effort involving all of Philadelphia’s academic health centers, including Drexel.  Bridging the Gaps is now also in Erie, Pittsburgh, the Lehigh Valley and New Jersey.

Elissa Goldberg, MSS, program director at Drexel University College of Medicine’s Office of Community Experience said, “I think that’s one major strength of this program. Students that are involved in it get to not only go out into the community, but they also get to meet other students from all of the different schools studying different health and social service disciplines. That kind of exposure is really powerful.”

A key component of the program is its Community Health Internship. Goldberg works to assign eligible Drexel students from creative arts therapies, public health, the law school and the medical school to different sites and teams. “We work with 75 different sites across Philadelphia. Each student is assigned to a site, usually in teams,” she said. For a limited time – seven weeks, four days per week – students dive into projects that aim to help them better understand the lives and needs of community members. “During that time we hope that they get as much experience as they can engaging with people in real ways, teaching, while also learning a lot themselves about other people’s lives,” said Goldberg.

This summer marked the 25th anniversary year of the Bridging the Gaps program, and five students from the College of Nursing and Health Professions Creative Arts Therapies Program participated, including art therapy, dance/movement therapy and music therapy students. Among them was Akash Bhatia (’16), a student in the Music Therapy and Counseling Program. From June through August 2015, Bhatia worked at the Attic Youth Center (a Philadelphia-based LGBTQ youth center) focusing on a project which was based on the “black lives matter” movement.

“Helping the youths become interested and invested in this movement, which was very personal and relevant to many of them, was rewarding,” said Bhatia. “I helped give them the resources to articulate their thoughts, emotions and beliefs.”

Bhatia’s participation came from his goal to have a career in a community health setting. He not only got to gain valuable experience, but he was able to make an impact on the lives of the youths at the Attic Youth Center. The work suits him well, as he continues to volunteer there.

Goldberg says the program leaves a powerful impression on student participants. “Students get to really learn about all of the different factors that affect people’s health and well-being. So health is not just if you’re coughing or not, but it’s about the whole fabric of your life – if you’re friendly with your neighbors, if you’re engaged with the community, how much education you have. This gives students a chance to go into different neighborhoods and meet real people who are living in those neighborhoods and see that they are people just like them with hopes and dreams and desires and stomach aches and joy.”