August 8, 2003

Program gives Vanderbilt and Meharry medical students experience in community health issues

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Center for Health Services director Barbara Clinton works with students participating in the Community Scholars Program during a weekly meeting. Each team of scholars consults the larger group and report on their progress.

Program gives Vanderbilt and Meharry medical students experience in community health issues

Since 1997 the Community Scholars Program offered at Vanderbilt University Medical Center has worked with community organizations to address public health issues.

Each year the program selects six to eight public health projects from suggestions offered by community and faculty partners. The projects give second-year medical students a first-hand look at the public health needs of a community and addresses those needs.

The scholars receive training in evaluation techniques, grant writing and program planning.

“This allows second-year medical students an opportunity to act on the altruism that originally brought them to medical school,” said Barbara Clinton, director of the Center for Health Services, which houses the Community Scholars Program.

“The medical school curriculum is so intense that there is very limited time to participate in outreach,” she said. “Many students want to explore working for the community and public health, while others want experience with grant writing.”

This year for the first time, a doctoral nursing student from Vanderbilt enrolled in the nine-week summer program that allows students, faculty and community members to work together to address community health needs.

“Sharon Karp’s research and practical experience brought diversity and depth to the program,” said Jon Wolfe, director of the Community Scholars Program.

There have been 88 participants in the program from Vanderbilt and Meharry. This year, 13 students partnered with eight organizations.

“Each year there have been several significant projects that have come from these collaborations,” Wolfe said. “And each year, the students learn what it takes to work in public health. They learn the day-to-day challenges associated with gathering data and determining the effectiveness of a program.”

Past projects have included designing a screening program for pre-verbal children for the Lions Club; creating an alcohol prevention program for an inner city youth organization for Youth Encouragement Services; designing an education program for mothers making the transition from welfare to work for MIHOW (Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker) sites; evaluating the impact of a volunteer strategy to increase mammogram use for the Center for Health Services for Breast Health Advocate Program and develop health outreach for pregnant women and families through a health fair for Nashville Health Corps.

“In some cases the program evolves as the summer passes. Some of the projects fall right into place, while others don’t,” Wolfe said. “But that is part of the learning process – move forward and develop the information into something that can be utilized for the community.”

One such project involved the Oasis Center, a non-profit agency that assists teens in crisis. The staff at the center was concerned about the problem of teen-age smoking in the teen shelter. They were interested in developing an educational/awareness program focusing on tobacco use, but had little resources and staff time to address the issue.

“Meharry student Candace Adair and Vanderbilt student Kristy Wolske started with the objective of educating teens about the “hazards of smoking,” said Wolfe. “After they developed focus group strategies for working with teens, the medical students recognized that preaching would not work, and suggested that a program where the teens were responsible for researching the information would be more effective,” he said. “The students also created ‘Smoking Assessment’ and ‘Smoking and the Media’ surveys for Oasis for future use.”Medical students also benefited from the experience, Wolfe said based on the comments he received about the program.

“Most of the students said they enjoyed the program, saying that it was different from normal course work and it was great to be involved with a wide variety of other students,” he said.

“One student said the most important things he learned from (the program) was the importance of sensitivity to different community concerns.”