Winter 2018

Medicine Meets Education

Community-service star Emily Frank, M15, gets kids excited about health.

By Monica Jimenez

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Participants in the Health Impact Partnership, founded by Emily Frank. Photo: Courtesy of Emily Frank

When Emily Frank was teaching life sciences in Vallejo, California, in 2008, she led her seventh-graders in an experiment to show how calcium strengthens bones.

Inspired, her students wrote impassioned letters to pupils at another school about the importance of drinking milk. “I learned from my students that peer pressure is the strongest force on Earth and that kids actually care a lot about health, despite public perception otherwise,” Frank said.

She took the lesson to heart. In her first year at Tufts University School of Medicine, she founded the Health Impact Partnership (HIP). Through the community-service learning project, Frank and other medical students helped high schoolers develop leadership and advocacy skills. Students investigate a health issue in their community—diabetes, for example—then brainstorm ways to address it and put the ideas into action. “What I like the most about the classroom and about medicine is the opportunity to help someone realize their potential,” Frank said. “I was attracted to work one-on-one with kids to help them understand their health.”

Photo: Courtesy of Teach for America

The ongoing program won Frank accolades—the Tufts Presidential Award for Civic Life, the Massachusetts Medical Society Scholar Award, and an Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service—and was the basis for an initiative she started in 2016 as a first-year resident in the Pediatric Leadership for the Underserved (PLUS) program at the University of California at San Francisco: Dubbed Summer Health Bridge, it involves students in community wellness projects.

“Young people’s engagement in these issues is critical for changing our health landscape. They have the most to benefit, and also the most to lose,” Frank said. “For me, this is the most fun part of residency—it’s the work I went into medicine to do, and the work I believe can make a lasting change.”

Frank isn’t the only one who believes it. In November, the Association of American Medical Colleges honored her with Organization of Resident Representatives Community Service Award, which recognizes those who have gone above and beyond the requirements of residency training to help improve nearby communities. She also received the Anne E. Dyson Child Advocacy Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Now a third-year PLUS resident, Frank has trained 16 Oakland-based health centers in the HIP and Summer Health Bridge curriculums. After residency, she plans to work at the intersection of education and medicine: As a part-time educator, she’ll help school administrators establish healthier practices for the students; as a part-time clinician, she’ll encourage health administrators to promote public education.

“An unhealthy child can’t learn well, and a child who’s not learning well is going to have problems maintaining their health,” Frank said. “I really want to help us think more deliberately about how we can promote education in health care and vice versa.”

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