The UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine, in partnership with Live HealthSmart Alabama, has established a new elective course to improve community health curriculum for first- and second- year medical students.

“Community Health Education Co-Enrolled Course”, developed by the Department of Family and community medicine and LHSA, was piloted during the Spring 2023 semester with 11 students.

Sumayah Abed, M.D., an assistant professor in the department and in charge of the course tells the story, “Because of my experience in community health, I was approached by our Chair, Dr. Irfan Asif to create a curriculum that would help students learn about health disparities and how to communicate with patients in a way that is sensitive to their needs and culturally appropriate.”

She added, “he [Asif] told me about the capabilities of the Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Wellness Van and I got to work incorporating how something like that can enhance classroom learning.”

LHSA SumayahSumayah Abed, M.D.UAB: a Health Promoting University

As the first university in the United States to sign the Okanagan Charter, UAB has become part of a larger, international effort of Health Promoting Universities and Colleges (HPU). The charter guides member schools to leading health promotion via action and collaboration, locally and globally. The community health education course provides a prime example of what university-wide cooperation can achieve.

Students who participate in the course receive two-part instruction.

First, students attend weekly in-classroom sessions consisting of various presentations, role-playing activities, and case studies that reaffirm the department’s mission to improve health and well-being by providing innovative patient- and family-centered health services.LHSA Community Health Course 2023 550x413

Next, medical students are co-enrolled in supervised hands-on training with Live HealthSmart Alabama’s Mobile Wellness team.

Live HealthSmart Alabama, one of the UAB HPU Initiatives, implements changes that remove barriers to making healthy choices in the areas of good nutrition, physical activity, prevention and wellness, and education. The group’s Mobile Wellness Van—managed by Dalton Norwood, M.D., Director of Prevention and Wellness for Live HealthSmart Alabama—serves the organization’s mission to make good health simple by providing comprehensive health screenings at no cost to patients.

LHSA DaltonDalton Norwood, M.D.Engaging with the Community

Throughout the course, Norwood works directly with Abed to manage the field training portion of the curriculum. Students in the class work with the Live HealthSmart Alabama team to administer tests to assess cholesterol level, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Next, students identify what patients’ bodies need to stay healthy and discuss with them how to make positive lifestyle changes based on their needs.

“Dr. Norwood created the perfect evaluation scorecard for the field training portion of the class,” stated Abed. “Students are rated based on their understanding of the social determinants of health, motivational interviewing, clinical knowledge, communications skills, and their introductions with the patients.”

Pilot Results & What’s Next

In the first semester alone, students worked a combined total of 126 hours in the Mobile Wellness Van, seeing approximately 225 patients. Of these students, 80% received a satisfactory score on their evaluation with 20% achieving superior remarks.

While students were graded on their understanding and performance, a number found themselves returning as volunteers. In a course evaluation survey, medical student, Hector Caceres, stated, “Working with the mobile health clinic gave me a unique perspective on the challenges faced by people who lack access to healthcare, and my classmates and I were able to see firsthand the critical need for these services in our communities.”

He added, “Through my work with the mobile health clinic, I gained a deeper understanding of the healthcare disparities that exist in our society, and I was proud to be part of a team dedicated to addressing these issues and improving the lives of those in need.”

As the Abed/Norwood duo prepares for the fall semester, they are looking to add live case scenarios that help students master their communication skills, as well as increase their familiarity with patient-facing community resources. This deepened approach includes the addition of screenings for hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and pre-diabetes.

When asked about why classes like the one he and Abed developed are so important, Norwood said, “My passion for community health education is a deep-rooted belief that it has the transformative power to make big changes in people’s life. These lifestyle improvements can also affect change in families and communities.