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One of the most appealing qualities of the physician assistant program here at Duke is its commitment to maintaining a presence in the Durham community.

First Year Student Blog: Mike Jelinek

One of the most appealing qualities of the physician assistant program here at Duke is its commitment to maintaining a presence in the Durham community. On October 4th that commitment continued when students from our class, alumni, faculty, and staff kicked off National PA Week with a day of service to the community. More than 120 people volunteered at various projects throughout Durham, including a construction project for Habitat for Humanity, helping the organization “Keep Durham Beautiful” clean up a local park, preparing meals at the Ronald McDonald House, and preparing food and diaper baskets for the NC Food Bank and Diaper Bank of N.C.

Coming from the Midwest, I decided not to pass up a chance to spend the morning outdoors enjoying the beautiful (and much warmer) North Carolina fall weather and chose to participate in the Keep Durham Beautiful project. Around 15 of my classmates –along with several members of the faculty and staff and even several alumni – showed up bright and early on a beautiful Saturday morning with trash-bags in hand to start tidying up the park. As we traversed the park and filled our bags, I couldn’t help but notice a few things:

First, even after a long week of studying, several exams and an early alarm on a Saturday, the mood of everyone at the park was noticeably upbeat, as the group was excited about the opportunity to spend some time together outside of school. I know I don’t speak for just myself when I say that despite only being in classes for two months, I have established some great friendships and gotten to know many of my impressive classmates that come from all over the country. This became even more apparent at the park clean-up as everyone worked together at something much less stressful than the anatomy of the thorax.

Secondly: the weather in North Carolina is especially refreshing in the fall. The crisp morning air seemed to spark some much-needed energy in everyone there, which would prove useful as most of us were planning to spend the afternoon refining our knowledge of pharmacokinetics in preparation for our pharmacology exam on Monday.

Lastly: the strong sense of community exhibited by my classmates, staff and faculty was unbelievable. I heard various conversations about previous projects that classmates had done, other events in Durham going on that weekend and plans for future community projects. And that sentiment was contagious. Shortly after beginning, a member of our faculty told us that some gentleman playing tennis nearby had approached her about what we were doing and how they could get involved in similar projects. This enthusiasm made us all feel like we had made our presence known.

When it was all said and done we had collected more than 30 bags of trash, several tires, and some glass bottles that must have been in that park since the Kennedy administration. We later learned that, as a program, we had logged more than 335 service hours between the different projects, making a tangible difference for local organizations.

However, the biggest takeaway I had from this experience was seeing how easy it was to get involved in the community and that just a few hours on a Saturday morning can really make a difference.  I know I don’t speak for myself when I say that I hope to take these lessons and experiences in community stewardship with me wherever my career takes me.

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