UMN medical students help create vaccine-promotion resources for physicians

University medical students Erica Sanders and Elizabeth Fairbairn led the initiative.

by Max Chao

Two University of Minnesota medical students are leading a project to help doctors talk with vaccination-hesitant parents.

For the last year, 20 students from medical schools in the state worked to compile and distribute resources to help doctors and medical students discuss vaccination with wary parents. University medical students Erica Sanders and Elizabeth Fairbairn lead the effort, called Hands on Advocacy, from the student section of the Minnesota Medical Association.

While the Minnesota vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella is approximately 94 percent — about 3 percent over the national average — unvaccinated people contributed to a recent measles outbreak in Minneapolis.

“The measles outbreak specifically didn’t spur our interest in the topic,” Sanders said, “but it has definitely given us a lot of additional momentum this year.”

Vaccine statistics, links to online resources and a guide to addressing common misconceptions were all included in the project, she said.

“The materials they are putting together are very timely, and I think they can be very useful in those face-to-face visits with parents bringing their children in,” said Dr. David Agerter, physician at the Mayo Clinic and president of the MMA.

The packet is currently available on the MMA website and the organization plans to distribute it in medical school classes, Sanders said.

Hands on Advocacy started in 2015 after the MMA conducted a medical student interest survey of 250 students across the state. It showed medical students were interested in advocacy but weren’t sure how to participate, she said.

“This has been a pretty unique project, to have students from all over the state working on this,” Fairbairn said.

The group plans to discuss policy with legislators and with the Minnesota National American Academy of Pediatrics to develop a video simulation program to help medical students discuss vaccines.

A new group of students will take over Hands on Advocacy in August, when they will decide on a new initiative, Sanders said.

“You can sit for an hour and listen to someone lecture about how to do something, or you can actually try to do it,” Sanders said. “We think that makes a much bigger impact and creates some real, hard skills.”