The three-legged stool of the SIU mission: education, patient care and research got a fourth leg last year: service to the community. “The classical parts of our mission are good, but not quite complete,” explains David Steward, M.D. MPH, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. “Service to the community goes beyond classical ideas of health care, research, and education.”
While service to the community is nothing new at SIU School of Medicine —education, patient care and research undoubtedly serve the population — a new committee is working to define, coordinate and enhance the myriad other ways faculty staff, and students already are providing community service. It also seeks new venues for even more opportunities.
Dr. Steward is chair of the Community Service Committee. “Rheumatologists support arthritis groups, the cancer institute is very active in cancer-related activities, infectious diseases manages the Ryan White Program, students work at the breadline and homeless shelters… the list continues. Our group is working to find a way to bring those activities together and make new connections to help our communities even more.” New areas of focus will consider the social determinants of health, defined by the World Health organization as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system.”
The notion of “community service” encompasses a big spectrum, and Dr. Steward says the committee intends to be all-inclusive, defining two ends of the community service spectrum: “citizenship” activities, defined as participating in established, community-based efforts such as volunteering at a breadline or shelter. Such citizenship activities are constantly in the works at SIU School of Medicine. For example, faculty, staff and students mentor Enos Elementary students through the Adopt-A-School program; the medical students donate time and supplies to homeless shelters and run a 5K for charity; in June 2010, a community service fair was held in conjunction with the 40th anniversary celebration activities. Employees individually donate their personal time and talents to countless numerous organizations throughout the community. “We have a vested interest in seeing the community be as good as it can be.” Dr. Steward says. “We want to help people collaborate and find opportunities together.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the group is looking at “mission-focused activities” that are health driven and based at SIU School of Medicine. For example, the School annually provides numerous public education programs around the region about cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, and other topics. The injury prevention program “Think First” aims to reduce brain and spinal injuries through public education sessions in local schools and community forums. Topics of general community interest include the popular Pearson Lectures and “SIU Men’s Night Out” programs. In celebration of the School’s 40th anniversary, a Mini Medical School further educated the community on health topics. Programs such as the Physician Pipeline Preparatory Program (P4) and Medical Explorers are introducing medical careers to teenagers.
One department’s commitment to community is right in its title: the SIU Department of Family & Community Medicine. “Service to the community is part of the fabric of the family medicine curriculum,” explains Chairman Jerry Kruse, M.D., MSPH “Both for our students and our residents, thinking in terms of the community is natural part of their experience, so we don’t have to think about doing it separately.”
Departmental faculty members have forged on-going partnerships with community groups, which have led to formal curricular evaluations of community health needs. With the additional help of grants from the Illinois Children’s Health Foundation, successful family medicine partnerships include programs with mental health professionals in Quincy and the traveling Care-A-Van for students in the Carbondale area. The department envisions uniting primary care practices with other community-based healthcare resources, including public health, mental health, and dental and eye care. “One of the goals of our department is to continuously strengthen the relationships with physicians and other health-care providers in the various communities in central and southern Illinois,” says Dr. Kruse.
Dr. Steward says the committee will take some cues from Family & Community Medicine and push the entire School of Medicine to create similar population-based activities. “We often take the clinical model of medical care, treating patients individually. But we need to take a public health attitude. We need to think about what works to improve the health of the population in general.”
To create such population-based initiatives, the committee is forming new partnerships and collaborations with the community to analyze their needs. “We can bring grant writing expertise and other resources and expertise that community groups may not have,” Dr. Steward explains.
For example, the Department of Internal Medicine recently instituted the Vince Demuzio Colorectal Cancer Screening Initiative. This program aims to help area citizens who are uninsured or underinsured and within the screening range for colorectal cancer (ages 50-65) obtain fecal occult blood testing or a colonoscopy. “This is a pilot project that we hope will expand with additional support the state or the CDC,” Dr. Steward says.
Another Medicine initiative is addressing obesity and metabolic syndrome. What started as a simple interest group has become an ambitious program supported by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois. The program is engaging Springfield School District 186 and programs at Urban League and public health department to help schools insert nutrition-related activities into curriculum. Children as young as three years old can learn about good health. “Having kids get the same message across various programs strengthens the message and improves opportunities to prevent obesity in the schools,” says Dr. Steward.
As the SIU Community Service Committee rounds out its first formal year this autumn, the group is refining goals, building infrastructure, and surveying the SIU employees to see where connections can be made.
Dr. Steward emphasizes that SIU School of Medicine’s mission includes all of central and southern Illinois. “We are the one medical school this whole region has. So we have a responsibility to provide not just health-care services, but to have a positive impact on their health as a population.”