A large RV, customized as a health education classroom on wheels, is among the new projects the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine plans with a $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
The grant is a one-year supplement that augments an initial $4.7 million award to the OU College of Medicine last year. The aim of the grant is to recruit, retain and admit students from rural, tribal and medically underserved areas, and to expand the primary care experience among current medical students. Data shows that students from those groups who attend medical school and residency in Oklahoma are more likely to return to their communities to practice medicine.
“Of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, 76 have a shortage of primary care physicians, and the need is particularly great in rural areas, underserved communities and tribes. The ultimate goal of this grant is to reduce healthcare disparities among Oklahomans and raise the health of the state,” said Steven Crawford, M.D., Senior Associate Dean of the College of Medicine and director of the Office of Healthcare Innovation and Policy. Crawford is leading the grant with James Herman, M.D., Dean of the OU-TU School of Community Medicine on the Tulsa campus.
The mobile classroom will allow the OU College of Medicine to introduce young people across Oklahoma to careers in health and to give them hands-on experience with activities like suturing, using a stethoscope or a microscope. The classroom will especially be geared toward smaller communities with fewer resources. Students from those areas may have the interest and skills to enter a health profession, but lack the opportunities to pursue it, said Robert Salinas, M.D., Assistant Dean for Diversity in the College of Medicine and a faculty lead for the grant.
“This mobile classroom will be a major asset in our outreach and in building long-term relationships with young people,” Salinas said. “This is not a one-year event, but is part of our efforts to build a pathway to medical school in which we mentor them over several years.”
Current students from all seven colleges at the OU Health Sciences Center, as well as the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work on OU’s Norman campus, will accompany the mobile classroom on trips around the state as part of their training to care for patients as an interprofessional team. They will not only introduce their chosen disciplines to the young people they encounter, but also see first-hand the challenges of life in underserved areas, where there are numerous barriers to good health.
The grant supplement will also allow the OU College of Medicine to launch the Medical School Readiness Program, an opportunity for students to be mentored as they prepare for the Medical College Admission Test, take part in mock interviews and job shadowing. This program is geared toward highly motivated students who traditionally have lacked the resources, because of time or money, to prepare for medical school.
The OU-TU School of Community Medicine, the college’s branch campus in Tulsa, is expanding several parts of its curriculum designed to help students better understand the importance of primary care. A course on medical informatics will give students a deeper dive into telemedicine and using the electronic health record to analyze trends among patient populations. Two other courses, Lifestyle Medicine and Health Promotion I and II, have already been added to the curriculum to further educate students about the roles of food and exercise in promoting better health for their patients. This year, students will spend more time on culinary medicine, learning from a chef how to make healthy foods appropriate for specific medical conditions, like diabetes. They will then teach those skills during visits to high schools in the Tulsa area.
“Our medical students will teach culinary medicine concepts and healthy food options to high school students,” said Frances Wen, Ph.D., Professor of Family and Community Medicine on the Tulsa campus and a primary faculty participant on the grant. “They will also talk about what it’s like to be in medical school. It has a powerful impact on high school students, who are not too much younger than they are, to see someone like them who is becoming a physician.”
The College of Medicine’s outreach and recruitment efforts are already starting to pay off, Salinas said. Several students who have been mentored over the past year are entering medical school or are preparing to apply.
“These efforts are relationship-centered, and to be successful, we need to work with students over a long period of time to help them overcome barriers to attending medical school or another health profession college,” Salinas said.
“Studies show that health outcomes improve with a more diverse workforce,” he added. “A person’s ZIP code should not determine their health status, and we hope this initiative can begin to improve the health and quality of life of Oklahomans.”
One of nation’s few academic health centers with seven professional colleges — Allied Health, Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health and Graduate Studies — the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center serves approximately 4,000 students in more than 70 undergraduate and graduate degree programs on campuses in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. For more information, visit ouhsc.edu.