Contemporary medical students' quest for self-fulfillment through community service


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Abstract

The author argues against the criticism that contemporary medical students, like most educated youth in our society, are self-centered moral relativists without a sense of social responsibility. He first frames his argument in terms of what Charles Taylor calls the three "malaises of modernity," namely, the rise of individualism, an emphasis on instrumental reasoning based on bureaucratic efficiency, and the loss of political action. He goes on to show how these malaises are manifested in the academic health center and their effect on the professional socialization of future physicians. Then, using John Evan's perspective of the need to shift from "supply-side" to "demand-side" thinking in the way today's medical students are trained and Hafferty and Frank's thesis that the most critical determinants of a physician's identity operate not within the formal curriculum but in a "hidden curriculum," he presents his own case of how Rush medical students, by participating in student-generated, voluntary projects--via the Rush Community Service Initiatives Program--are harnessing their individualism through commitment to serving the poor and disadvantaged. To show that the situation at Rush is not unique, the author also points to the impact that the Health of the Public and service-learning programs have been having both in academic health centers and in the communities being served. Finally, it is his contention that these community service experiences, given unconditionally to people in need, broaden the students' education by offering a population and community perspective of health and illness and, perhaps more important, bind them closer to society in both a moral and a political sense.

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