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May 1, 2014 - USA Medical Students Cook for Ronald McDonald Families
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_MG_9675-web.JPGThird-year medical student Audrey Paulzak’s desire to help people extends beyond the hospital walls. “Illness not only affects the sick, but also has an impact on those not in the hospital bed,” she said.

On April 16, 2014, Paulzak, along with a group of classmates, cooked a homemade taco dinner for the patients and families staying at the Ronald McDonald House at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital. The Ronald McDonald House is an organization that provides a temporary home – where they can eat, sleep, shower, and wash their clothes -- for families of children currently in the hospital.

The students hope to make it a permanent program where they cook a meal once a month.

“Everybody goes through something at some point in their lives where they can’t possibly hold up the weight of the world on their own,” Paulzak said. “Sometimes the best ‘medicine’ we can offer is to feel ‘normal.’ A hot, home-cooked meal is a ritual that brings comfort, familiarity, and closure at the end of the day.”

When Paulzak’s older brother Michael was born in Niceville, Fla., he had to stay in a Florida neonatal intensive care unit for six weeks. Her parents lived an hour away from the hospital. “As any family with a sick newborn can testify to, the only place my first-time parents wanted to be was by his side every second of the day.”

Ronald McDonald house took her parents in for the full six weeks. “I remember growing up and hearing the story of his first few hours, and my mom always said what a relief it was to come home to Ronald McDonald house after a long day of stressing by his bedside - about how kind they were and how the cabinets were always stocked full of food.”

Paulzak knew she wanted to find a way to give back. “When the Ronald McDonald House at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital expressed a need for hot, home-cooked meals for their residents I figured that was a really feasible way I could contribute,” she said.

Paulzak knew her classmate, Chris Mills, would be on board. “I immediately started coming up with ideas for meals,” said Mills. “Cooking is something I have really grown to love and is a big part of my life. It even serves as an outlet for the stresses of medical school.”

Mills says preparing the meals is a great way to serve the community as well as interact with patients' families. “They are not in the comfort of their own homes, so having a home-cooked meal at a time like this can really make someone's day, and hopefully it helps contribute to the positive experience they have at the USA hospitals.”

For another third-year medical student, Brytney Cobia, cooking dinners for Ronald McDonald House is a familiar task. “My dad took me to do this on the weekends when I was growing up,” she said. “It is such an easy way to give back that makes such a difference for these families with so much on their plate.”

Cobia said many parents are from cities more than an hour away, and having a child in the hospital for a prolonged period of time can make for a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive commute.

“As a medical student, we are so focused on the medical care of our patients that it is easy to lose sight of the other people involved in the patient's healing – and that they often need care themselves,” she said. “I think this program is a great way to stay grounded in medicine and to not lose sight of the bigger picture of a patient's health.”

For those interested in volunteering, contact Chris Mills atcsm1101@jagmail.southalabama.edu.

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