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Retiring office director reflects on impact of IU School of Medicine service-learning projects

Apr. 29, 2014

Students learn valuable lessons every day in the classroom and clinic at IU School of Medicine, but Stephen Kirchhoff knows there are plenty of other worthwhile lessons to learn that prepare students to serve their communities -- lessons available through the Office of Medical Service-Learning at the IU School of Medicine.

Stephen Kirchhoff

The IU-Student Outreach Clinic received a Governor’s Service Award last fall. On hand for the celebration were, from left, Steve Kirchhoff, Sheryl Allen, Janice Farlow, Ryan Kammeyer, Jordan Bradford and Jason White.

Kirchhoff, director of the office, who will retire this month after 22 years with IU, has seen first-hand how those lessons can make a difference in medical students' future careers.

A retirement reception will be held in honor of Kirchhoff from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 21, in the VanNuys Medical Science Building Atrium. The event is open to the public.

Established in 1996 with IUSM Spring House Calls, in which medical students doing yard work and other projects in neighborhoods near the IUPUI campus, Kirchhoff's office has grown significantly over the years.

Office of Medical Service-Learning projects now include the award-winning IU-Student Outreach Clinic, started in 2009, and more than 20 student-led projects all over, from Indianapolis neighborhoods to foreign countries.

The volunteer efforts help students see the day-to-day lives of people they may serve during their professional careers and learn about how different circumstances affect people's health and wellness.

More than 450 students volunteered in the community last year, providing over 12,000 hours of service, according to the Kirchhoff. The office boasts about 1,500 medical student alumni, with more than half of medical school graduates from the class of 2013 participating in one or more service-learning projects during their medical school careers -- prime examples of the impact of 18 years of service.

The office's impressive student alumni base also demonstrates that both current and former student volunteers share a belief in the importance of service, he added.

Stephen Kirchhoff

Kirchhoff will retire this month as the director of the Office of Medical Service-Learning.

Medical Service-Learning also has significant support from faculty members. One-fourth of the 25 volunteer faculty advisors who help current students and programs were Office of Medical Service-Learning volunteers themselves.

The office “fosters a lifelong commitment to community service,” Kirchhoff said.

Braca Benizry Cantor, co-chair of the 2013 Spring House Calls and a 2014 School of Medicine graduate, agreed.

"Service learning events are a way to show that we care about the people in our communities on several levels, not just their medical care," Cantor said. "We want to convey the message that future physicians want to help out, to build or reinforce a sense of trust and connection between patients and physicians."

Kirchhoff also considers the volunteers IUPUI ambassadors, carrying out the campus's civic engagement mission while further developing their leadership expertise. That service enhances public appreciation of the work doctors do in neighborhoods and clinics, as well as public support for the School of Medicine.

Spring House Calls, for instance, beautifies the homes of 25 to 30 senior residents in underserved Indianapolis neighborhoods each year. IUSM students have provided nearly 7,000 hours of service for those neighborhoods during the 18-year history of the program, Kirchhoff estimated.

Also a vital community resource is IU-Student Outreach Clinic, which provides medical, legal, dental, pharmacy, social work and physical therapy services. Kirchhoff said the clinic has served thousands of Indianapolis residents since 2009.

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