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New global partnership opens door for Calvin pre-med students | Arts & Culture

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New global partnership opens door for Calvin pre-med students
New global partnership opens door for Calvin pre-med students


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Calvin College)—This January, a group of Calvin pre-health students are taking their learning from the classroom to rural Malawi through a new partnership between Calvin College and Mission to Heal, an organization that sends health care practitioners to developing parts of the world with high medical needs to treat patients and to train local health care workers.


The trip is the first of many opportunities Larry Gerbens is organizing through his new role as pre-health adviser.


In the position, which is currently undergoing a nine-month trial run, Gerbens is working to provide health and pre-health students with opportunities for experiential learning.


“I’m advising on the big picture issues—putting together the opportunities for shadowing, volunteering, leadership and research that students need to get into graduate school,” said Gerbens.


The new role brings together Gerbens’ roots in medicine—he practiced ophthalmology in the Grand Rapids area for more than 30 years—with his work as a gift officer at Calvin for the last seven years. During those years, he focused on developing scholarships for students going into healthcare professions.


With one in eight Calvin students in a health or pre-health program, Gerbens realized that academic advisers didn’t have time to devote to organizing extra-curricular opportunities for so many students. As a pre-health adviser, he’s hoping to relieve them of that responsibility.


“In this day and age of HIPPA [Health Insurance and Accountability Act], experiential opportunities are hard to come by,” Gerbens said. “Simply volunteering at a hospital requires a background check, much less a job or shadowing opportunity. So I’ve been tasked with working with outside organizations and students to provide those opportunities to take that pressure off of faculty advisers.”


The partnership with Mission to Heal already has the potential to give Calvin students valuable experiential opportunities.


Mission to Heal is based on the work of 1964 Calvin graduate Dr. Glenn Geelhoed, who has been taking his medical knowledge across the globe for more than 40 years. Geelhoed is leading the trip to Malawi.


“Geelhoed came to the January Series, and since then he’s been taking Calvin pre-med students,” said Gerbens. “It’s been a transformative experience, so his organization and Calvin now have a memorandum of understanding around taking students on his projects.”


Calvin is the first school to sign such an agreement with Mission to Heal.


In addition to the Mission to Heal partnership, Gerbens is working to secure opportunities for students in the Grand Rapids medical community. He also hopes to forge stronger connections with the admissions teams at graduate schools.


Ultimately, Gerbens says it is the chance to work with students that drew him to this position:


“I’m doing this because I love working with the students. They have really become my passion.”