Medical student Justin Pespisa launched a Best Buddies chapter at UMass Medical School this year to promote friendships between adults with intellectual disabilities and aspiring doctors and advanced practice nurses, and to reinforce the importance of compassion in health care.
The relationships among the nearly two dozen students and their new friends from the Worcester area are teaching the future health care providers that people with disabilities are no different than them, Pespisa said.
“Best Buddies is a program that I've been involved in ever since high school and when I got to UMass, they didn't have a chapter here and I thought they really should,” said Pespisa, who is entering his third year of medical school. “My thought was that it’s particularly important for people going into health care to really view people with intellectual disabilities as our equals. Viewing them as equals will lead to more compassion and empathy when caring for them.”
Pespisa and co-founder Victoria Winslow, who is entering her second year as a medical student, reached out to Seven Hills Foundation of Worcester to help find interested adults in their community who might enjoy friendships with the students. Originally hoping to start with a handful of students and community members, Pespisa and Winslow said they were delighted by the nearly two dozen pairs who signed up.
John Lauria, who is buddies with third-year medical student Salim Zerriny, said their favorite activity is going out to dinner.
“He means a lot to me, like a good friend,” Lauria said at a recent picnic organized by the UMMS students. “He can help me with different things in life, so I think it’s good.”\