MSUCOM student receives Blue Cross Blue Shield grant for community engagement project


Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine D.O.-Ph.D. candidate Basma Masraf Klump (OMS-III) has been awarded a grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan’s Student Award Program for her work developing and implementing the Substance Use and Prevention Committee (SUP).

The SUP is a community engagement organization that spans across all three MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine education sites – on the MSU campus in East Lansing, the Detroit Medical Center, and the Macomb University Center at Macomb Community College in Clinton Township – using research-based methods to connect with high school students to address the national need for awareness of substance misuse among teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in seven high school students in the United States reported misusing prescription opioids at least once in their lives.

The SUP began in 2019, initially inspired by a group activity held at the National Student Osteopathic Medicine Association (SOMA) convention. Then in her second year of her D.O.-Ph.D. program and serving as a SOMA national liaison, Klump attended a presentation by the Opioid Task Force at the conference. Attending medical students were informed about the opioid epidemic, where she and her peers recognized a need to spread the word to a wider and younger audience.

Klump explained that during a group activity, students were asked to come up with a question they would like to answer using a project they could develop. “So, we thought ‘communities are not hearing this. Therefore, we might create a project that targets teens, raising awareness towards the opioid epidemic,” she said.

Once the students returned from the conference, they sought out volunteers among peers, and sent emails asking for students to be part of this group. “Then, we came together, we sat down, and created goals and outlines of what to do, what schools to visit, how we’d do this and the research components, as well, including a review from the International Review Boards (IRB) and getting an advising faculty,” Klump said.

Saaranga Sasitharan, D.O., currently a resident in family medicine at the University of Michigan, co-founded the SUP with Klump. Dr. Sasitharan was president of SOMA at the time.

“I knew this is a great project that could promote community health, and when I proposed it to the group,” Klump said, “she (Dr. Sasitharan) said ‘go for it, I’ll support you.’” When we piloted the project, it was solely based on awareness and trying to see how we could improve the educational material, and how we could communicate with high school students.”

The SUP’s education topics would include the history of the opioid epidemic, names of prescriptions, as well as long-term misuse symptoms and warning signs of misuse in peers, friends and family members.

“We focus on the health consequences as well as the social and financial burden,” Klump said. “Then, lastly, we educate teens about resources such as rehabilitation centers they can go to, or recommend others to go to. One of them is the Families Against Narcotics center in Michigan, an organization that can help users seeking help and recovery.”

Another organization they promote is the Truth Initiative, which urges people to stop using stigmatized language and end common misconceptions around substance misuse. “When you keep saying someone is an addict, basically that’s labeling and stigmatizing the misuse disorder,” Klump said. “Patients are less likely to seek help when they are being labeled with these terms. However, when you say a person is misusing, then they are more likely to open up to you and seek help from not being labeled negatively.”

Questionnaires were also created for students before and after the SUP’s interactions to compare results to further the research and assess the material’s efficacy.

Carolina Restini, Ph.D., Pharm.D., associate professor in the MSU Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, serves as the SUP’s advising faculty.

Dr. Restini came to the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2017 and served as a professor at a medical school in Brazil. After 20 years of advocating for students and patients while leading community projects, she lent her community outreach and research skills to the umbrella of SUP projects across the three sites.

Since the SUP’s start, she has noticed heightened communication skills from medical students throughout their involvement.

“Nothing would be done without these students willing to do something different in the community, not only through generating research of course, which is really good for their research skills, but also for their communication skills,” Dr. Restini said. “We have a group of students from all three sites working together towards serving the community through disseminating knowledge in a bidirectional way, so it’s a win-win collaboration in which we serve the community, and they help us to enhance their communication skills.”

The committee’s methods go beyond traditional school presentations, she explained. All SUP materials are presented through open discussion-based interactions and learning activities, including games that allow for both increased engagement with and feedback from high school students.

“This project is based on dynamic interactions. The beauty is that these students prepare these interactions supported by evidence-based data. Under supervision, they are the ones who not only prepare interactive and dynamic methods of engaging these students to take care of their own health, but their community’s health,” she said.

Dr. Restini also notices the unique impact that medical students have on fellow students at high schools during these in-person interactions.

"They are leading and inspiring these students,” she said. “What I have seen in these pathways in all three projects that are run within their respective sites is that the high school students have a better connection with medical students than if it were me or my peers as faculty. The communication and the relationship they create among them is different.”

Klump, along with Urja Parikh (OMS-III), prepared the grant that is now funded by the BCBS of Michigan foundation. SUP has also won this year’s Transportation Support Award sponsored by MSUFCU, as well as individual students recognized for their work in SUP on the national level, one of which is Ananya Varre (OMS-III), current co-chair of the SUP who was awarded the SOMA Community and Preventative Medicine scholarship. Additionally, students on the committee had the opportunity to present at the AACOM National Conference–a conference historically reserved for faculty.

“We are presenting to our peers – other institutions, other medical institutions, medical schools, how to build a project like that, so they have a template,” Dr. Restini explained.

Not only does the SUP plan to spread their influence geographically; they are continually taking feedback from high school administrations to expand their breadth of substance misuse topics. Dr. Restini said school district directors have approached her to prepare interactions to talk about alcohol misuse among athletes. Klump was also recently approached to speak on vaping, another relevant epidemic prevalent among teens.

“Teachers have been seeing an increase in vaping use among teens. We took it to heart, we took it back to the table and opened the discussions, we made the presentations using the literature review, and we did it,” Klump said.

The SUP is currently involved with eight schools and is in communication with three other schools. The BCBS grant helps with transportation costs and prizes for high school students for the educational games, as well as aids the SUP’s long-term goal of branching out to more communities.

“Our long-term goal is to expand to other schools in neighboring states – the next step would be to recruit individuals in other medical schools who can also create chapters of SUP at their schools as well, so that we can come together and make a broader impact,” Klump said. “Collaboration with other communities will increase the likelihood of reaching schools with ethnic diversity, and diversity in socioeconomic status.”