Medical student volunteerism addresses patients’ social needs: A novel approach to patient-centered care

Chinwe Onyekere, Sandra Ross, Alexa Namba, Justin C. Ross, Barry D. Mann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Healthcare providers must be equipped to recognize and address patients’ psychosocial needs to improve overall health outcomes. To give future healthcare providers the tools and training necessary to identify and address psychosocial issues, Lankenau Medical Center in partnership with the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine designed the Medical Student Advocate (MSA) program. Methods: The MSA program places volunteer second-year osteopathic medical students in care coordination teams at Lankenau Medical Associates, a primary care practice serving a diverse patient population in the Philadelphia, PA, region. As active members of the team, MSAs are referred high-risk patients who have resource needs such as food, employment, child care, and transportation. MSAs work collaboratively with patients and the multidisciplinary team to address patients’ nonmedical needs. Results: From August 2013 to August 2015, 31 osteopathic medical students volunteered for the MSA program and served 369 patients with 720 identified needs. Faculty and participating medical students report that the MSA program provided an enhanced understanding of the holistic nature of patient care and a comprehensive view of patient needs. Conclusion: The MSA program provides students with a unique educational opportunity that encompasses early exposure to patient interaction, social determinants of health, population health, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Students develop skills to help them build patient relationships, understand the psychosocial factors shaping health outcomes, and engage with other healthcare professionals. This work in the preclinical years provides students with the knowledge to help them perform more effectively in the changing healthcare environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-49
Number of pages5
JournalOchsner Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Community health services
  • Education-medical-undergraduate
  • Health services needs and demand
  • Healthcare disparities
  • Patient care team
  • Primary health care
  • Social determinants of health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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