Health Student Engagement: Forming a Community Clinic-University-VISTA Partnership

June 24, 2019

Susana Carlos is serving with the 2018-2019 College Health Corps cohort at the University of Minnesota (UMN)-Center for Health Interprofessional Programs (CHIP), to develop the relationship between a unit focused on health interprofessional collaboration and a university-community clinic. She’s identified opportunities for meaningful civic engagement as interprofessional experience and created the structure for a patient-centered volunteer system. In this blog post, she explains the formation of this partnership and where things are headed next. 

Q: How did you identify the need for this partnership?

My site, the Center for Health Interprofessional Programs (CHIP) is a physical lounge space for health students to eat lunch together, interact and collaborate across programs. CHIP essentially encourages students to pursue their passions outside of the classroom and work with their peers in other health programs through co-curricular programming and activities (i.e. participating in interprofessional student organizations). CHIP has historical ties to service and, being a home to a number of student groups, wanted to create pathways to health-related opportunities as professional development to support well-rounded health professionals.

The VISTA project focused on the development of the partnership with the Community-University Health Care Center or CUHCC (also a federally-qualified healthcare center or FQHC), to create and connect students to these meaningful, health-related opportunities. CUHCC is a university-affiliated clinic and education site that provides training to health students in various capacities with the mission of, “Transforming Care and Education to Advance Health Equity.” CHIP and CUHCC already had natural overlaps and there was certainly potential for a natural mutually-beneficial partnership to emerge. There were already solid interprofessional experiences in place, including regular education lunch sessions for staff, students, and providers, as well as Narrative Health writing sessions that encourage empowerment through telling one’s health story. Ultimately, time and energy was needed to view gaps where students could make an impact.

I was tasked with how staff could reframe the student experience and connect back to healthcare, in addition to ensuring ethics are upheld. Health professional students at the University of Minnesota have strict limitations on how they can apply their knowledge, despite coming from a place of good intention or the desire to, “help people.” In its effect, untrained help can pose ethical concerns to our communities and we must be aware of the authority that a lab coat or a University jacket carries. Students may feel the desire and knowledge to perform medical exams, treatment, or providing advice far beyond their knowledge base to both help and have an experience to put on a resume; when taken at face value by patients, the information can be inaccurate and dangerous to patients.  Hence the importance of adhering to ethics and creating meaningful roles for students in the process. Some pathways to engagement that have been identified, include nonclinical, people-oriented volunteer roles (Patient Navigator-someone to welcome patients and direct patient flow) and longitudinal projects, such as the planning of a Patient Appreciation & Wellness Fair with CUHCC staff. These roles work within the limitations students have to work with and provide an integration to gain valuable, patient-centered experiences. I look forward to the duration of the VISTA project, as CHIP and CUHCC will continue working together to develop these kinds of opportunities to shape stronger health professionals.

Q: How did you prepare yourself for developing this university-community partnership? How did you incorporate this into your project?

To ensure that my work was done ethically and with the vision of sustainability, I researched the best practices for civic engagement and met with UMN staff, students, and faculty to learn about community partnerships. The biggest takeaway from this research: we must include all stakeholders from the planning phases to implementation to evaluation. It takes humility and a willingness to learn to make the work meaningful and mutually beneficial for all.

In the application of this knowledge, the CUHCC Education Manager and I held learning sessions with patients, providers, and staff to identify the “missing pieces” of the clinic. This feedback was wrapped into volunteer positions that would improve patient satisfaction and clinic flow. The roles that consistently popped up during the assessment process were “Patient Navigator” (or someone to direct patient flow) as well as “Child Engagement Specialist” (or someone to read books to families in the lobby). The idea is that these volunteer positions provide pre-professional students and health professional students (i.e. Nursing, Dental, or Public Health) opportunities to work with diverse patient populations in nonclinical roles, in a clinical setting. While these are roles that do not require intensive training, they are examples of a community-driven solution and I am excited for the implementation phase with the next VISTA year.

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of this project, and is there a stand out moment?

As for a stand out moment, this is the first year of the project, the stage is essentially being set. However, the feedback that I have received has really made me feel as though my work is important and that I could make an impact. What I enjoyed the most was being able to work with students on projects that they are passionate about and how I was able to serve as a point of contact to lead the way. I worked with Primary Care Progress (PCP), a CHIP student group and national organization, focused on promoting primary care. Together with CUHCC staff, we planned a Patient Appreciation & Wellness Fair. The students enjoyed this longer-commitment to work with community clinic staff on a project designed to increase patient satisfaction and because this was outside of the clinic’s capacity, they even acquired the funds to make it possible. The event was well-attended and well-received by all. As a result, PCP met their educational objectives and began a truly beneficial partnership that they wish to continue developing.

I am proud to be part of such an exciting initiative. I will be entering a Master’s in Public Health program in the fall and will be a graduate health professional student myself. CHIP is very close to home and I am promoting interprofessional experience as I would like to see it. As a result, I have been able to incorporate my own learning and the experiences of others to shape events and programming in meaningful ways.

The following are some resources that supported my learning: