Civic Fellows in the Future

December 1, 2021
Megan McLaughlin, '19, speaks about her experience as a former civic fellow and current medical student

By Joanne Bong, ‘25, Communications Assistant for Equity & Community

In the summer of 2018, Megan McLaughlin, '19, was interning at a free clinic for those unable to afford healthcare in Wise County, Virginia. Now, she is studying in the MD/MPH program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

"I was passionate about working with a nonprofit clinic but, given that I was trying to save up money for medical school, I knew it wouldn’t be feasible to give up a whole summer’s worth of income," McLaughlin said, which led her to apply for a Civic Fellowship.

The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement’s Civic Fellowship Program provides funding for students completing internships in the nonprofit or government sectors. Civic Fellows also do academic research with a mentor to supplement their intern experience.

Professor George Hiller, J.D. ’91, who served as McLaughlin’s mentor, opened the door for students to intern at the Health Wagon.

"I thought that this would be a mutually beneficial opportunity for not only the Health Wagon, but also for providing diverse experiences to UR students," Hiller said. "Compared to Richmond and other urban areas, it's a whole different world out there."

Wise County is a rural county with a dominant mining industry and, like many counties in the Appalachian region, has high poverty and limited access to healthcare.

For McLaughlin, the choice to intern at the Health Wagon came after watching the Remote Area Medical (RAM) documentary.

"I was inspired by the empathy and determination of the health care workers that I saw on screen and wanted to join their mission," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin recalls a particularly memorable moment in her internship when she shadowed a plastic surgeon at work during a thunderstorm.

"I remember rain water flooding the tent and having to scramble to hold the expensive equipment off of the floor," McLaughlin said. "I was in awe, partly because of how the surgeon continued as if nothing was out of the ordinary, but also because of the reality of the situation: I was in the U.S., one of the most affluent countries in the world, and yet I was watching a patient get surgery inside of a flooded tent without electricity."

This experience along with her overall internship at the Health Wagon helped McLaughlin in her decision to pursue a masters in public health. Gaining the opportunity to work with and witness trained professionals, grow familiar with medical tools and procedures, screening methods, patient charts, and clinic logistics has also given her valuable insights as she works toward a medical degree.

In addition to pursuing her dual-degree, McLaughlin is also involved in the Nicaragua Medical Missions Board, the IDEA Clinic, and At Your Cervix, all organizations focused on increasing the scope of healthcare.

Overall, the internship was a fulfilling experience for McLaughlin, or as she puts it, "why would you NOT take advantage of an opportunity to help a local nonprofit while gaining clinical experience, learning more about the U.S. health system, and earning money that can be put towards future schooling?"

Photo: Megan McLaughlin, right, and Professor George Hiller, center, at the Health Wagon with Ava Clark, '20, far left, and Health Wagon clinical director Dr. Paula Hill-Collins