Feinberg second-year medical students screen patients for food insecurity

As part of their second-year MD curriculum, a group of Feinberg students recently designed and implemented a community quality improvement project, screening patients for food insecurity at their Education-Centered Medical Home (ECMH) site, the CommunityHealth Clinic, on Chicago's West side.

Shruti Trivedi, MD, ’03 GME, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Hospital Medicine, ECMH site preceptor for the CommunityHealth Clinic, oversaw the project, which was run by second-year medical students Gina Johnson, Christopher Reynolds, Alexander Gorzewski and Bijan Moazezi.

We decided as a group to do our project on screening patients for food insecurity primarily because this is an issue that has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and because CommunityHealth serves uninsured patients, a group which may face food insecurity at a higher rate than the general population."

Gina Johnson, second-year medical student

The students used the Hunger Vital Sign questionnaire, a two-question survey that helps healthcare providers identify individuals and households at risk for food insecurity. For patients who screened positive, the students referred patients to food pantries near their home address using online resources such as the community referral platform NowPow and the Greater Chicago Food Depository's website.

As part of the students' Community Health Advocacy Initiative (CHAI) project — a recently added component to Feinberg's MD curriculum — the students also decided to spend an afternoon helping distribute food to community members at Onward Neighborhood House, which provides support, resources and assistance to community members in need on the city's West Side.

Second-year medical student Bijan Moazezi helps distribute food to community members at the Onward Neighborhood House. Courtesy of Gina Johnson.

"After implementing the initial stages of our project, our CHAI mentor, Dr. Jill Krissberg, challenged us to reach out to a potential community partner in order to gain a deeper understanding of what happens at a food pantry," Johnson said. "We reached out to Onward Neighborhood House because we thought they would be an ideal food pantry location to refer our patients, as the pantry is located in the same building as CommunityHealth's microsite where some patient visits take place and many of our patients live in the surrounding neighborhood."

Johnson said her experience volunteering at Onward Neighborhood House helped her realize how much hard work, time and dedication is takes to run a food pantry, and will help her and her peers better inform their patients about the process of going to a food pantry and what to expect.

In the future, the students said they hope to recruit more medical students from their ECMH site to volunteer at Onward Neighborhood House and expand their patient screening for other areas of need.

"It was so rewarding to volunteer at the Onward Neighborhood House," said Reynolds. "We want to keep working with them and maybe set up an ongoing schedule to volunteer. Additionally, we would like to screen for other needs like clothing, occupation, or housing and assist our patients in finding those resources that we can connect them with."

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