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Peer Mentoring Brings First, Second-Year Medical Students Together on West Reading Campus

October 12, 2022

By Lisa Ryan

Entering medical school is a major transition for incoming students, bringing nerves and excitement in equal measure. Each year, second-year MD Program students serve as peer mentors to incoming first-year students – and this fall, the peer pairings had added significance on the College of Medicine’s West Reading Campus.

Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health welcomed its inaugural class, 40 members of the MD Program Class of 2025, in fall 2021. Many of those students signed on this year to be matched as “Bigs” to Class of 2026 “Littles,” sharing lessons they learned in their own first year of medical school and welcoming the incoming first-year medical students to the campus community they helped to build.

West Reading Class of 2026

“Looking at West Reading, the inaugural class set the foundation for what that campus looks like and its values,” said Orcel Kounga, director of admissions and student affairs at the College of Medicine at Tower Health. “They helped bridge gaps within the community, and in many areas, they were the first to help set up the on-campus groups and organizations that we see going into year two.”

In their first year on the West Reading campus, the Class of 2025 created more than 15 on-campus student groups, in addition to getting involved with organizations that let them connect and collaborate with their peers on the Queen Lane Campus. They helped their new Berks County neighbors through a variety of community engagement efforts, including contributing more than 1,200 hours of health advocacy work at over 20 nonprofit sites.

The 2021-2022 inaugural academic year was busy and full of 40 familiar faces. For members of the Class of 2025, it was a noticeable, but exciting change, when the campus population doubled this August. Suddenly, they did not recognize every car in the campus parking lot. They could walk into a favorite study room and meet someone new.

“The first week was strange because we were so used to being the only ones on campus,” said Jenna Ehlert, MD Program Class of 2025. “Getting to know new people has been refreshing and exciting. I cannot wait to gain another 40 or so close friends.”

Bringing the incoming class into the fold on campus is important to Davin Evanson, MD Program Class of 2025, as well.

“I am hoping that having many of us acting as Bigs to the Littles in the next class will provide opportunities for a tight-knit cohort in West Reading,” said Evanson. “As a Big, I’m hoping to form a lasting friendship with my Little, especially given how close my Class became last year.”

In addition to making their Littles feel welcome on campus, Bigs help ease the transition into medical school. Kounga said Bigs serve as one of many support systems for incoming students, whether they are answering Littles’ questions or sharing their own first-year experiences.

Bigs and Littles are paired based in part on shared interests, but Kounga and his colleagues also hope that the paired peers will learn from their differences in perspective or lived experience, as well. It’s one of the mutual benefits for medical students participating in the Big-Little program, along with the increased opportunities for community involvement, and the sense of purpose one can derive from mentoring.

“All of these benefits will in turn help participating students become better physicians in the future, as they will consistently be mentoring future physicians in their professional career,” Kounga said.

Bigs were prepared at the start of the semester with advice to pass along to their Littles. Ehlert wanted to emphasize the importance of work-life balance, of making time for family and friends, and to engage in favorite pastimes to relieve stress.

Evanson was eager to talk with his Little about what he has learned about a medical student’s responsibility in a patient care setting.

“It is amazing the trust and respect that patients place in their physicians, and in medical students,” he said. “I’m excited to share with my Little how being a medical student comes with responsibility, but also opportunities: these next few years will shape not only the physicians we will be, but also the kinds of people we will become.”

Paired with Evanson through the Big-Little program, Zachary Zook, MD Program Class of 2026, was glad for the opportunity to talk things through with the second-year student.

“Davin has been a huge help in getting adjusted to medical school,” Zook said. “His advice on how he studies, and what to focus on now versus what I can work on later in the year, has already been invaluable. He has also been great with checking in on me and seeing how I am doing.”

In addition to advice on navigating classroom and clinical experiences, Bigs show their Littles all the things they love most about living in West Reading. Ehlert was excited to share her favorite brunch spot with her Little, and Evanson and Zook had planned a group trip to a local landmark, the Pagoda, from which one can see all of West Reading.

For Evanson, being a Big is about building a new friendship and paying forward the mentorship he has received along his medical school journey.

“Being a Big feels like being an older sibling: you may know a few more things or have some good advice, but at the end of the day, what matters is being there for someone through the transition to medical school,” he said.