Skip to main content

Students Provide Virtual Community Care with Bridging the Gaps Program

by Janelle Hill Aug 5, 2020

Emelyn Cruz ’21 is from Allentown. But the DeSales nursing major never realized the complexities of healthcare in her hometown. Then, a summer internship changed everything. 

Cruz was one of six students to participate in the Lehigh Valley Affiliate of the 13th annual Bridging the Gaps (BTG) Community Health Internship Program. The goal is to help students gain a broader understanding of the factors that affect health in underserved, economically disadvantaged communities.

“I feel so naive because I wasn’t aware of all of the issues,” she says. “Oftentimes, the people here are not receiving the care that they need in their own community.”

The students worked in pairs with Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley for the virtual, seven-week internship. One pair focused on mental health and emotional stress related to COVID-19, while another assisted with access to housing in the Lehigh Valley. 

Cruz and Noel Kelly ’21, a medical studies major, led a project involving culturally competent care. The two conducted a literature review, interviewed community members, and compiled a list of providers that have been deemed culturally competent to present to the community. 

“The providers that come to Allentown are not from Allentown, so they don’t understand the community and the population that they’re working with,” says Cruz. “I thought it was important to see why and what the people in Allentown can do to find the provider that’s right for them.” 

In addition to their community projects, students also took part in biweekly webinars with different speakers. Topics ranged from gun violence and police brutality to the opioid epidemic. 

“This summer has been very valuable. It has really tied into the social injustice issues that have been going on recently in our community. It has taught me how to be a better provider and really look at patients through a different lens that I wouldn’t have gotten from just sitting in a classroom.” 

 Noel Kelly, medical studies major

In addition to Cruz and Kelly, four other students took part in the Lehigh Valley project: Chelsea Budde, a nursing major from DeSales; Daniel Phillips, a master of social work student from Marywood University; Abby Dugo, a medical student from Temple/St. Luke’s School of Medicine; and Charlene Weiner, a nursing major from Moravian College.

“I am just so impressed that the interns are making such an impact to help a community that needs assistance, even though they’re not physically present at any community sites,” says Dr. Mary Ellen Miller, retired associate professor in the Division of Nursing and director of the Bridging the Gaps Lehigh Valley Affiliate. “It’s just amazing. They’re positively impacting quality of life for populations in the Lehigh Valley.”