Training Medical Students in Community Health: A Novel Required Fourth-Year Clerkship at the University of Rochester

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In 2004, community health became the fourth mission of the University of Rochester Medical Center, along with education, clinical care, and research. In that same year, a novel clerkship was added to the fourth-year curriculum that focuses on the “practice” of community health and preventive medicine. The goal is to offer intensive experiential training to develop skills in community health improvement by partnering with community agencies involved in health promotion and disease prevention. The learning objectives addressed include community health assessment, risk behavior change, assurance of personal health services, advocacy and policy change, environmental interventions, community organization and partnership building, and program evaluation. The clerkship involves three full days of didactic instruction at the beginning of a four-week period of program development and implementation. Each student chooses a project that focuses on a specific target population, then designs it and incorporates public health knowledge, skills, and attitudes learned during the didactic component. Course directors then mentor students during project implementation. Students can begin “longitudinal” experiences in their first or second years to fold into the required clerkship. Innovations include a novel Advocacy and Policy Change module, a highly rated Cultural Determinants of Health lecture, and a resource-based course Web site. The clerkship was initially offered as an elective, and it has since become a required course. In the clerkship to date, 340 students have launched hundreds of community-level interventions within various settings locally, nationally, and internationally. Evaluation efforts to date indicate that the clerkship has been received favorably by both faculty and students.

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