Bridging the Gaps Holds 10th Annual Symposium
On Wednesday, October 3, health professionals, students, educators, patients and community members gathered at DeSales University in The Gambet Center for Business and Health Care for the 10th Annual Symposium of Bridging the Gaps (BTG). Bridging the Gaps, a Community Health Internship Program, provides a paid, seven-week interdisciplinary community-based summer practicum for graduate or undergraduate students. The program began in Philadelphia 29 years ago and has been running in our region for ten years as a collaboration between DeSales University and Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) that is supported by The Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust. The three organizations sponsored the symposium.
Father James Greenfield, OSFS, President of DeSales University warmly welcomed attendees and speakers to the symposium. Lucy Tuton, PhD, Executive Director of BTG at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine opened the event with a look back at the path of the program saying, “The history of the program is steep in partnerships and collaboration. Bridging the Gaps represents so many constituencies and people.”
The mission of BTG is to link the training of health and social service professionals with the provision of health-related services for underserved and economically disadvantaged populations. Students’ projects are designed in collaboration with partner organizations based on community-defined needs and the professional discipline and interests of the students. Any graduate-level students completing social work, medical, or nursing degrees or undergraduate healthcare professional students who have completed two years are eligible for the internships.
Mary Ellen Miller, PhD, RN, APHN-BC, DeSales University serves as the Lehigh Valley BTG Program Director with support from Abby S. Letcher, MD, Maggie Hadinger, EdD, MS, ACC, Director, Medical Education, Department of Education, and Lissette Ortiz, BBA, Student Affiliations Specialist, Department of Education, all of Lehigh Valley Health Network. Annually, this group works to secure interns and partner agencies, and tracks the progress of the projects through the summer season.
Dr. Miller reported that in 2018, five interns served through the program, though it can host up to approximately 12 interns annually. Community partners for the year were Casa Guadalupe, AIDS Activities office at LVHN, City of Allentown Alliance Hall Summer Camp, and The Sixth Street Shelter.
“Since 2009, 84 student interns have come through the program from a wide range of academic partners,” Miller announced. “In addition, the program has charted 18,816 direct service hours of community benefit in its 10 years.”
This year’s symposium served as a review of the summer internship program most recently completed, a celebration of the 10th anniversary of programming in the Lehigh Valley and as a candid educational opportunity for medical professionals and students studying to enter the healthcare field.
The afternoon showcased project posters from the interns outlining 10 years of project work in policy intervention for homelessness; summer camp programming for the Hispanic population of Allentown’s first ward; geriatric workforce enhancement; asset mapping in Allentown; and interprofessional care for HIV positive.
Keynote addresses were offered from Sirry Alang, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Health, Medicine, and Society at Lehigh University and Hasshan Batts, MSW, D.HSc., Director of Operations, Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley. These were followed by a moderated patient panel that brought to the forefront the need for relationships between healthcare providers and patients to build trust and understand every person’s complete story. Summarizing the stories shared on the panel, Batts reflected, “Healthcare is about being part of your community. We can build things together that we couldn’t build separately.”
Additionally, two former BTG interns and two community preceptors joined the panel discussion. The former interns shared how BTG personally impacted their career path; the community preceptors discussed how BTG positively impacted their organizations.
The conclusion of the event was a time to offer accolades and acknowledgement to champions of the program, including an award to Joseph J. Napolitano, PhD, MPH, RN, CRNP, Program Officer of The Dorothy Rider Pool Heath Care Trust, for initial and continual support of BTG through the full decade of the program. A grant from The Pool Trust to LVHN’s Department of Education provides financial support for students and faculty in Bridging the Gaps.