A key piece of the PA program’s community engagement goals is the Medicine and Society course series. Spread over the first half of the 28-month program, the series is divided into four parts. It covers such topics as patient-centered care, racial and ethnic disparities in health care, social determinants of health and caring for vulnerable populations.
To support the lessons, faculty routinely draw on cases and literature from McGraw Hill’s AccessMedicine and AccessDermatologyDxRx, comprehensive online medical education resources that are written by leading medical experts and used in medical schools around the world. Banks says these supplemental materials help foster in students a sense of civic agency, or collaborating with diverse groups to tackle common challenges and create meaningful solutions. “I see a level of intentionality to provide library resources that support the mission of creating the advancement of health equity in a diverse and inclusive way,” she explains. “AccessMedicine provides comprehensive content that helps support the student learner and is user-friendly.”
Complementing the coursework is a strong service-learning component. Students are encouraged to get involved in their area, understand the health needs and conditions impacting people living there, and work with local organizations and partners to improve them. (The PAs in the Park is one such example of this.) Just as important, students reflect on their experiences in the community and share those observations in class, so everyone has a chance to learn and grow.
Creating a space for tomorrow’s healthcare providers to glean so much meaning from their education—and personally connect to the school’s mission of advancing health equity—is a point of distinction for Morehouse’s PA program. “I haven’t seen the service-learning model that we have, where we’re in the classroom learning concepts and going out into these spaces to listen, understand and apply,” Banks says. “The learning process is reflective and community-driven: What do you see? Come back into the classroom, and let’s talk about that. We plan and then negotiate with our community partners about the next steps.
“One of the things we impart upon our students is that you’re going to walk away from here with a lot of knowledge,” she adds. “But that does not make you the expert of the lived experience of the community that you work in.”
A devotion to community health
James Brown, a recent PA graduate, learned that lesson firsthand during a project that addressed childhood obesity. At the outset, he and his team planned on developing a recommendation for local schoolchildren that included things like the number of times they should exercise a week, the types of meals they should be eating and how many calories they should consume each day. But the more they learned about the children’s home life and family financial situation, the more they realized they needed to rethink their plan.
“Many of these kids weren’t able to buy certain foods,” he says. “And a principal told us that the area where the kids lived wasn’t safe. They’re not going to be able to go to the park or their parents don’t allow them to go there. That’s something we had to consider as well.”
After speaking with multiple school administrators, Brown and his classmates eventually landed on a recommendation that called for schools to open their gym for an hour on weekends, with security officers on hand. “We had to move around some things and figure out what the barriers were for these children to be provide them with the necessary tools to live healthy lives,” he says.
Promoting community health isn’t just restricted to class projects. Despite juggling a full course load, many PA students seek out additional volunteer opportunities. “They’re always doing things in the community on Saturdays so it doesn’t interfere with class time,” says Dr. Lynne Simpson, library manager for Information Services. “They’re very serious about it. And then on Monday, they’re right back here in the library.”