KU School of Medicine–Wichita
1010 N. Kansas
Wichita, KS, 67214
October 01, 2019
Medical students from the Class of 2022 stand in front of a Habitat for Humanity home they helped build during their first week of school at KU School of Medicine-Wichita.
By Joe Stumpe
Michael Oakes was an undergraduate at Newman University when he ﬁrst encountered a student ambassador from KU School of Medicine-Wichita. The experience helped chart his course for the next four years, both as a medical student and member of the ambassador program himself.
"When I was at Newman, we had several KU students come to the school who were also Newman grads to talk about their medical school experience," said Oakes, who graduated from KU School of Medicine-Wichita in 2019 and entered the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Oregon Health and Science University. "I wanted to return the favor."
Oakes was one of several dozen ambassadors this past year who gave campus tours, performed physicals on low-income middle school students and represented KU School of Medicine-Wichita in other ways.
School officials say the ambassadors help put a face on an institution that people otherwise might know only by driving by it on I-135.
"Anywhere they're needed as a representative of KU, and it's something they can do, we generally try to get there," said Karen Drake, assistant director of the Department of Academic & Student Affairs at KU School of Medicine-Wichita. "They're always out doing something."
The student ambassador program started two decades ago. Students apply and must be approved by a majority vote of current members, but as Drake said, "The application is ‘Why do you want to be an ambassador?' If somebody wants to do it, they're in."
Ambassadors have performed blood pressure checks at the Kansas State Fair and given talks on the dangers of smoking.
"If a high school science teacher wants someone to come and talk to their class, they're willing to do that," Drake said.
When college students applying for medical school have their in-person faculty interviews, a pressure-packed day for many, ambassadors eat lunch with them. Ambassadors must commit to one volunteer opportunity per semester, although many do more.
Each year, ﬁrst-year medical students traditionally participate in various volunteer projects as part of the student ambassador program. In 2018, during their ﬁrst week of school, ﬁrst-year students helped build a house for Wichita Habitat for Humanity, organized medical supplies at the Medical Loan Closet in Wichita, sorted school supplies for the Salvation Army and packed hundreds of senior food boxes that were distributed by the Kansas Food Bank across the state.
Fourth-year medical student Trista Vancuren said she ﬁrst served as a student ambassador at Pittsburg State, where she got her undergraduate degree. "I enjoyed it and wanted to do that again in Wichita."
Her favorite aspects of it are appearing on behalf of the school at college and career fairs, and interacting with area high school students.
"A lot of high schoolers may have an interest in being a physician but don't know the path to get there."
She explains to them that college students don't have to major in a certain subject to be accepted into medical school, as long as certain prerequisites are met; that they typically apply in their junior year; that medical school consists mainly of book work the ﬁrst two years and clinical rotations after that; and that residency follows school.
Ambassadors staff medical booths at events like charity walks and runs, help out at campus open houses for high school students and give many individual tours to prospective medical students.
A couple of ﬁrst-year students have mentioned it was what convinced them to come to the Wichita campus, because of the ambassador who showed them around.
"A lot of them are just curious about what medical school entails," Oakes added. "There are medical (television) shows where people kind of get an idea, but they just want to know what the day-to-day life is like for us."
Ambassadors have also spoken to local public officials and prospective donors about the school. Whatever their audience, it's not hard to see why the ambassadors' enthusiasm is contagious.
"I think we're just trying to make it more known that the Wichita campus is not only present but ﬂourishing, and people are generally happy to be here," Oakes said. "I would choose it all over if I could."
Above, left: KU School of Medicine-Wichita students sort food at the Kansas Food Bank.
Above, right: Khanh Hoang, a medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, worked with her classmates to help build a home for Habitat for Humanity.
This article was first published in KU School of Medicine-Wichita's Embark Magazine.KU School of Medicine-Wichita