EAST COUNTY — Huy Pham, a 25-year-old medical student, held his right hand to the side of his head and his left hand to his heart.
Then, he dropped both arms in a straight, vertical position by his side.
He held them there and then abruptly whooshed his outstretched arms — now in a horizontal position — toward his head, as if he prepared to fly.
The Qigong instructor in the front of the dim room, whispered, “Let it go.”
Nearby, stood Shirley Weber, 80, a breast-cancer survivor, who rested her hands over her belly button and leaned her weight back, eyes shut.
The Center for Building Hope (CBH) in Lakewood Ranch hosted Pham and fellow Florida State University medical student Gerald Bieniek for the school’s Community Medicine Clerkship from Nov. 27 to Dec. 13.
For four days a week and five-to-nine hours a day during that time, Pham and Bieniek, both students at FSU’s Sarasota campus, participated in various programs at the CBH —an organization that offers support services to cancer patients, caregivers and family members.
By joining in the Qigong class, arts and crafts, yoga and even a support group called, “Losing a Loved One,” Pham and Bieniek were expected to reach beyond the role of a traditional doctor and understand the role played by community centers in maintaining and promoting health.
As Pham experienced Qigong — a Chinese exercise that focuses on breathing in rhythmic movements for stress reduction — his blank expression belied the fact he had trouble focusing.
“It’s hard to not think about anything,” Pham said. “I’m always thinking about school and what’s due.”
Pham, a Brandon native whose time volunteering at nursing homes as a undergraduate student pushed him to pursue medicine, came away inspired by a service he knew nothing about.
“The longer I’m here, I notice how invaluable this service is,” Pham said. “Every day people affected by cancer come here even if it’s just to share a cup of coffee or share stories. The camaraderie is important to them. And their outlook is just incredible. Everyone has a positive attitude. We have a lot to learn from them, really.”
Bieniek, a Michigan native who chose to follow his mother, a nurse, into medicine, said he quickly felt relaxed when he walked onto CBH’s five-acre, gold LEED-certified campus, which is surrounded by a nature reserve.
“You quickly realize the goal here is to reduce stress and allow people to relax and meditate,” Bieniek said. “It de-stressed me and showed me I need to clear my mind.”
CBH program director Andrea Feldmar has hosted FSU students in the three years she’s worked at the center.
She said the program’s participants, who come to as many free classes as they please, enjoy interacting with students.
“Participants love to have them here,” Feldmar said. “They feel like they have a pipeline to the ears of up-and-coming physicians of future. It gives the students a little different twist on things and shows how their gifts can impact people emotionally, as well as physically.”
Weber sits in on classes four times a week.
In a yoga class, Weber, whose son is a doctor, had a conversation with Pham about his future.
“(Pham) is a nice and conscientious young man,” Weber said. “This is a wonderful thing for these students, to understand people and feel people and see the bond that people have here. We would do anything for each other.”
Another 18 third-year medical students at the FSU Sarasota campus participated in the clerkship at various agencies across the community, such as the American Red Cross and hospice organizations.
Only Pham and Bieniek were assigned to CBH.
Throughout the three weeks, students had to complete related writing and reading assignments, plus deliver a PowerPoint presentation to their class that reflected on the experience.
“This is really a great resource that physicians need to be more aware of,” Pham said. “I know it is something I will offer to my patients. Everyone is just so welcoming here.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].