Hiking & Helping: Community Service at the UVM College of Medicine

uvmmedicine blogger Catherine Suppan '17
uvmmedicine blogger Catherine Suppan ’17

Fall in Vermont is beautiful, and the weather can be perfect for a weekend hike: crisp air, clear skies, and visibility for miles. This vision of autumn was the inspiration behind our first College of Medicine monthly community service event: a trail maintenance hike with guides from the Green Mountain Club, an organization responsible for building and maintaining Vermont’s Long Trail and beyond. While the weather did not cooperate for our volunteer day September 20, and the physicality of the event proved to be a bit more challenging than expected, the College of Medicine students who participated and our guides managed to have a great time and even get a bit of trail work done.

Heading into the weekend, I kept my fingers crossed the rain would hold off, but while it was sunny in Burlington upon our departure, the top of Glen Ellen was under cloud cover and experiencing winds so strong the trees on the ridge line were being uprooted. The wet-moss covered ground added an extra level to the hike, but being almost-doctors, we were pretty sure nothing would happen that we couldn’t handle. Beyond everything that could have made the day a wash, literally, I was so impressed with how the volunteers conducted themselves, not complaining, not asking to leave early, willing to try new things like sledge hammering stakes into planks, and engaging in great conversation. It was a great opportunity to get inter-class interactions we otherwise would not have had, and everyone reported back as having a great time. Gains from the trip included building puncheon (those wooden plank-bridges over muddy spots on trails), hauling a portion of unused (very heavy) lumber from a newly built hut to a place where it would be picked up, and eating a few Costco-sized portions of snack food and lunch. All-in-all, a productive, fun, challenging day.

From a planning perspective, I really enjoyed being in contact with GMC and starting to get to know different members of the administration as more than names on emails. I tried not to be discouraged by a lower than anticipated participation rate (perhaps I set too lofty of a goal for such an early departure; I certainly woke up wishing I had another several hours of sleep left), but the group that came more than made up for numbers in their willingness and enthusiasm for the day.

When I took on this position of community service coordinator, I knew it was going to be a bit of an unknown, being new and all. My goals for it were (and are) to come up with monthly events that are fun and rewarding as well as helpful to the community. I want to make opportunities in the area more accessible to med students, and make sure students are aware of what is out there. With that in mind, ideas are always welcome!

Thanks to those that helped out planning and participating this past weekend, and if you could not make it, no worries, there will be plenty of opportunities in the future.

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