Six times a semester, Michael Vitez and his students spend an hour walking up and down the streets surrounding Temple University Health Sciences Campus to speak, listen to and celebrate the stories of North Philadelphia community members.
“I just think it’s really important to know where you work and know the community you work with, and meet them on their own terms, and sort of demystify the neighborhood of North Philadelphia,” said Vitez, director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.
Vitez is trying to bridge the gap between the Lewis Katz School of Medicine and Temple University Hospital and the surrounding North Philadelphia community through the Humans of North Philly: Portraits from the Streets course, an elective offered for the Narrative Medicine Program at the medical school, a program designed to increase the students’ understanding of their patients as more than their medical history.
Vitez hopes his students will learn to bond with residents in the same way they should bond with their patients to bring a sense of trust with people they would otherwise treat as strangers.
A new exhibit, “Neighbors of North Philly”, showcases stories and photos collected by seven students from 2018 and 2019 as part of Temple Libraries’ Made in North Philly programming series.
Photos of residents are accompanied by a short description of the person based on interviews that the students conducted. The descriptions provide brief insight into the resident’s life and role in the community.
The exhibit is open to the public from Sept. 1 to Dec. 15 in Charles Library on Main Campus in room 401. Students covered everything from Meadowlane Bar-B-Que, a couple-run BBQ restaurant on Broad and Erie streets, to Betty Jones, who runs a state-funded free lunch program every summer.
Connor Hartzell, a fourth year medical student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, is one of the seven Humans of North Philly students whose work is on display at the exhibit. Hartzell took the Humans of North Philly course in Fall 2018 as a first year medical student to learn how to better engage with North Philadelphia residents who often are patients at Temple Hospital, he said.
“It’s like bringing a story to the patient, or helping you as the healthcare provider realize that the people you’re taking care of are just that,” Hartzell said. “They’re people, they’re not patients, they’re people with all these lives of their own, with families and kids and stories and love and heartbreaks and all that.”
Hartzell hopes that through the exhibit, students can become more aware of the Narrative Medicine Program, and even be inspired to pursue medicine themselves.
The elective has been offered since Fall 2016 and allows students to interview and photograph North Philadelphia community members to build trust and positive relationships with them, according to Vitez.
Jenny Pierce, head of Research and Education Services for the Temple Health Sciences Libraries, recommended the students’ work be showcased for the Made in North Philly programming series, which aims to showcase the people from the community surrounding Temple’s Main Campus and Health Sciences Campus.
Pierce saw the work the students collected in previous years displayed in the atrium at the Medical Education and Research Building and wanted to help bring more recognition to these unique stories and experiences, she said.
“When the main library, the Charles library, put out a call for ideas around how to celebrate North Philadelphia, I thought about this project and, by that time, they had done it twice, so [Vitez] had two years worth of photographs and interviews with people in the North Philadelphia community to display,” Pierce said.
Kaitlyn Semborski, program coordinator at Temple Libraries, is thrilled to showcase the students’ work, as it fits perfectly with the theme of the Made in North Philly programming series, Semborski said.
“There’s always more that you can learn, people and experts from the community that you can appreciate, and we’re hoping to help the Temple community better appreciate North Philadelphia,” Semborski said.