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​Improving community health, showing the impact

Most U.S. colleges of medicine require their students to participate in volunteer activities, but few incorporate such service into the ­­­curriculum. At The Ohio State University College of Medicine, though, providing care to patients in diverse, underserved communities is folded into every student’s learning experience – and Ohio State is a national leader in educating medical students in this way.

Daniel Clinchot, the college’s vice dean for education, explained to the Wexner Medical Center Board of Trustees Wednesday that Ohio State launched the intensive service-learning curriculum component in 2012, requiring students to devote a minimum of 30 hours to service in coordination with a central Ohio community agency. In addition, students are required to study and report on the impact of their efforts.

“Ohio State’s medical students are a powerful workforce fighting against health disparities,” Clinchot said.

On an annual basis, Ohio State’s medical students perform 12,000 hours of service and serve at least 2,000 central Ohio residents through this community health education project, said College of Medicine Dean K. Craig Kent.

Four students described their projects to trustees.

Kyle Smith, who is pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, worked at a physical therapy clinic on Parsons Avenue in Columbus that is run by students who are supervised by faculty. The clinic opened in 2015 in coordination with PrimaryOne Health and provides pro-bono services to underserved populations in central Ohio.

Smith recalled working for a year with a patient still recovering from a stroke whose insurance coverage had run out. By the time the treatment concluded, the man had made significant mobility improvements and could safely perform daily activities in his home, where he lived alone.

“This is one example of the impact we can have on these patients,” Smith said.

Grace Lartey was inspired to pursue health care as a career – and to focus on access to care – in part because of her own family’s problems accessing care in Ghana, which contributed to her mother’s loss of a pregnancy. Working with the local nonprofit Sisters Across Borders, Lartey and her classmates focused on reducing risk for cardiovascular disease in the Ghanaian community in north Columbus by conducting preventive screenings and providing education on nutrition and exercise.

“As a medical student, I am fortunate to be at a place like Ohio State so I can impact society through community health,” Lartey said.

Second-year medical student Jaron Hansen participated in the Health Sciences Academies, an initiative in seven Near East Side schools designed to improve student outcomes by encouraging a healthier lifestyle and promoting career development, especially in the health industry. The program, a partnership between Columbus City Schools, Wexner Medical Center and PACT (Partners Achieving Community Transformation), was launched in 2015.

Hansen and classmates held discussion sessions with 20 East High School students over four months, introducing them to health care-related hands-on activities and interactive experiences, and mentoring them along the way.

In a poster presentation, Hansen’s group reported that a survey of the students “indicated that our program had the greatest effect on increasing student confidence and desire to pursue a health professional career and interest in the Health Sciences Academies school club.”

Lauren Chen’s community health education project group teamed with an existing after-school and summer program for socioeconomically and academically disadvantaged youth in Columbus, many from families lacking access to quality education and healthy lifestyles.

The medical students developed a series of workshops on nutrition, physical fitness, substance abuse prevention and mental wellness that were integrated into the Healthy Asian Youth summer programming.

“Ultimately, we hoped to promote lifelong healthy behaviors and build rapport with the underserved community of Columbus,” the group reported.

Chen told trustees that follow-up data suggested their workshops made a difference: Participating children watched less TV, drank fewer sugary beverages and exercised more.

“I’m grateful and proud to be part of a medical school that has afforded me the opportunity to help kids grow up to be advocates for their own health,” she said.

Clinchot told trustees that current first-year students are working with the Franklin County Coroner’s office on a series of projects related to the opioid crisis in the region. The community health education component of the medical curriculum requires students to create programs that can be sustained by partner agencies or that can be passed on for students to continue in subsequent years.