University of Southern California: Keck School of Medicine MD Program relaunches community service program for new medical students

No matter the season, the Keck School of Medicine of USC puts a primary emphasis on serving members of its local community. It was in this spirit that 16 first- and second-year medical students joined three senior leaders from the Keck School’s Department of Medical Education on December 11 for a morning of packing fruit at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

The event marked the relaunch of Keck in the Community, a program first started in fall 2019. Envisioned as a way for incoming students to get to know each other, meet Keck School leadership and dive into community service during first-year orientation, the program spanned 15-18 sites across Boyle Heights, East LA, Lincoln Park, El Sereno and downtown.


“We were excited to introduce the program, but then, of course, the pandemic hit, and we had to hit the pause button,” recalls Donna Elliott, MD, EdD, vice dean for Medical Education and chair of the Department of Medical Education. “We’re thrilled to be starting things back up again, and the event at LA Regional Food Bank was a great way to do it, especially since we’re in that time of year when giving, and giving back, is on all of our radar.”

Dr. Elliott and her colleagues Ron Ben-Ari, MD (associate dean for Curriculum), and Tanisha Price-Johnson, MD (associate dean for Student Affairs), worked side by side the Keck School students on the food bank floor. Collaborating in person, Dr. Elliott says, was a welcome opportunity to reengage after an extended period of distance learning.

“Our second-year students spent last year on Zoom, and our first-year students are just starting out at the Keck School,” she says. “This gave us all a chance to come together and bond while also doing something important.”

This spring, Keck in the Community will get a more formal rollout: the Keck School will incorporate it into the school’s curriculum as the experiential component of the Health Justice and Systems of Care longitudinal course. Under the auspices of the program, all first-year students will spend a half day volunteering with a community-based organization.

Dr. Elliott says the program is a natural outgrowth of the Keck School’s commitment to community service. “By formalizing Keck in the Community, we’re announcing to everyone that this is who we are,” she affirms. “At the Keck School, service is what we’re all about.”

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