As part of their efforts to promote DEI both internally and externally, many health professions schools focus on community outreach programs as a way to address long-standing mistrust of medical professionals within marginalized communities, break down barriers to health, and ensure that graduates are prepared to serve diverse populations.

Through such programs, students, faculty, and staff often engage with local nonprofit organizations to provide free or low-cost health care, offer mentorship and guidance to prospective students from underrepresented backgrounds, and participate in solution-focused research that addresses inequities in health. Outreach projects strive to meet the needs of underserved populations, particularly those from low-income, geographically underrepresented, or racially marginalized backgrounds.  

Numerous winners of the Health Professions HEED Award, including Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Einstein), Kansas State University (KSU) College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Nova Southeastern University (NSU) College of Optometry, have robust community outreach programs designed to bolster health equity in their surrounding neighborhoods while also helping students, faculty, and staff develop a better understanding of the social determinants of health care.

Through the Community Based Service Learning (CBSL) Program, medical students at Einstein engage with and impact social and health equity in the Bronx community. Projects include providing health education and outreach services to local residents, collaborating with community organizations to address environmental conditions impacting wellness, conducting research on disparities and inequity, and advocating for relevant policies and programs. 

CBSL is a required program for all first-year Einstein students and also available to graduate students in the biomedical sciences and public health fields. However, all can choose to participate in CBSL projects for more than one year and are encouraged to develop their own equity-focused projects that align with their interests and career goals.

The KSU College of Veterinary Medicine operates the This is How We ROLE program, which teaches grade school children from underrepresented and economically disadvantaged backgrounds about veterinary professions. The program connects diverse KSU veterinary faculty and students to children from the local Boys & Girls Club of Manhattan so they can serve as role models and mentors while encouraging the children to consider a career in veterinary medicine.

The NSU College of Optometry offers a comprehensive public health curriculum consisting of four courses that address issues related to health equity in diverse populations. As part of this curriculum, students participate in community outreach projects, such as providing back-to-school physicals at public schools in underrepresented communities and offering vision screenings in low-income and marginalized neighborhoods in the North Miami area. In addition, students, faculty, and staff engage in research and clinical programs in the community to gain a better understanding of health equity needs within the region.

This article was published in our November/December 2023 issue.

Top photo: Albert Einstein College of Medicine hosted the 47th annual northeast conference of the Latino Medical Student Association in February.