While students in Engineering Medicine’s (EnMed) class of 2024 started their medical school journey amidst a pandemic that often prevented them from gathering together, that did not stop social chairs Madeline Franke and Kevin Birdsall from facilitating connections with their other classmates while maintaining a distance that kept everyone safe. As restrictions begin to lift and more students receive the available vaccines, Franke and Birdsall are planning more in-person activities for their class, including a trip to the Houston Art Museum.
“The social and academic aspects of medical school are hard to balance, but this balance is critical to personal happiness and mental health,” Birdsall said. “Being able to help people balance this has been a very rewarding portion of our role.”
At the height of the pandemic, Birdsall and Franke organized Zoom socials and creative outdoor events that prioritized their class’s safety while still providing opportunities for them to get to know each other. The social chairs said that while it was a challenge to come up with safe plans at a time when rules were frequently changing, the experience ultimately brought them closer together.
“I think the fact that we entered medical school in a pandemic made our class’ bond that much stronger,” Franke said. “We really missed getting to interact in a classroom, talk in between classes and grab lunch together, so whenever we were able to connect, it made our time together more intentional and special.”
Franke grew up as a military child who moved often and had to learn early on the importance of building connections. It was these experiences growing up that sparked her interest in running for social chair of EnMed’s class of 2024.
“Moving to a new city, state, (even) country often made me really value finding a community and bonding with the people around me,” she said. “I wanted to help facilitate the bond of our class because I know how important it was for me to be social and plant roots as I moved throughout my life.”
For future activities, Franke and Birdsall are excited to start exploring Houston’s restaurant scene and are looking for opportunities where the class can connect more with faculty in social settings. For future events, they plan to visit the Houston Zoo, Galveston beach and Space Center Houston.
“Our experiences in medical school, especially a dual-degree program like EnMed, are very unique and sometimes no one else truly understands what we are going through,” Franke said. “Having activities planned that we can do together allows us to grow in friendship with the people who we are so fortunate to walk this four-year journey with.”