Behind the scenes with Ellie Small at TEDxMSU


By: Brianna Robinson

Two busses filled with volunteers and supplies rumbled down the bumpy Guatemalan roads, heading towards their destination - a temporary medical clinic where many were waiting for much needed care. Grasping her script tighter, Ellie Small focused in on the thoughts and words she wanted to share when she would present at the annual TEDxMSU the following week.

Small, a second-year medical student studying at the College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Detroit Medical Center site, was in Guatemala for a global outreach elective where volunteer students and physicians offer medical care to underserved communities. This was her second year going on the trip and she was accompanied by nine other osteopathic medical students from the college.

As part of her outreach efforts, Small also is president of Detroit Street Care, or DSC, where health care professionals administer medical services to people experiencing homelessness. DSC enables students to use what they’ve learned in the classroom and put it to use in real-life settings – allowing them to engage with their community and apply their knowledge, while under the supervision of Dr. Richard Bryce and other physicians, who oversee and mentor students in the street care program.

During her presentation at TEDxMSU, Small shared her passion for street medicine and the lessons learned along the way that have fueled her sentiment for this type of work. She also encouraged audience members to challenge the way they give back in their communities and make conscious choices in treating others with kindness and respect.

Here’s a closer look at what drives Ellie Small in the work she does.

Why did you get involved with TEDxMSU initially?

Personally, I think that any opportunity to talk about street medicine is an opportunity worth taking. While some people may already know about the work we do, there are still a lot of people who don’t. Any opportunity to inspire and get people more involved, whether it’s someone in the medical field or not, is worth it.

Street medicine is something I can talk about all day. The biggest challenge was getting all I wanted to say into a 10-minute presentation. It took me a few months to prepare, but I think I got my message across.

What did you want people to remember the most?

That you don’t need to be an expert to have an impact or have a medical degree to be a good person and treat people like actual people. Anyone can be kind. It’s not just the responsibility of our volunteers to make people feel visible. It’s on every single person. If you look the other way, you are contributing to the problem. Making a conscience effort to treat people like people and to be kind and cognizant of our actions, and do this a little more each day, was what I wanted people to walk away with.

Even if only a few people in the audience incorporate this way of thinking into their day— whether it’s making eye contact with someone or stopping to say hello, then my talk was a success.

What do you think the future holds for Detroit Street Care?

I think students in general have so much passion for this work and that’s been one of the most exciting things for me as a leader of this organization…pointing that passion in the right direction and helping people do what they want to do within the organization.

I think we are going to continue to make enormous contributions and as we see Detroit Street Care volunteers graduate, they will translate that into their future careers. Even those that only come out and volunteer once are likely to become more comfortable speaking with someone who has experienced homelessness.

As far as our work in the community, the support we have from our partners at Wayne State, University of Michigan, the Empowerment Plan and the NSO Tumaini Center, has allowed us to become very much engrained in our community, so if we continue to strengthen those partnerships, I think that’s where we have the chance to make a sustainable impact.

TEDxMSU is an event organized by volunteers with the goal to spark conversation, connection and community. This year’s event was held at the Wharton Center on March 11, 2020 where eight speakers were able to share their experiences and expertise to an audience of all ages.

Want to get involved in Detroit Street care? Click here for more information.