PA Students Care Strong for Northeastern Ohioans

Jereme Mellenthin, MPAS, PA-C and the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) PA Program developed The Care Strong Project to promote social justice and provide access to health screenings, health education, fresh local foods, and equal opportunity for healthy living for underserved communities.

A collaboration between the PA Program and a local nonprofit, Food Strong, the project offered 28 preventative health screening clinics across 5 locations in East Cleveland, a food desert.

Clinic participants could have their BMI, blood pressure, and blood sugar checked; participate in health education and smoking cessation counseling; and receive oral health and mental health screenings.  In addition, participants at the events near local farmers markets were provided with “health bucks” to use on fresh foods as an incentive for the screenings.  Nearly 300 community members were reached.

CWRU’s first- and second-year PA students, pharmacy students from Ohio Northern University, and family medicine residents from University Hospital staffed these interprofessional clinics.  Students not only gained clinical experience performing the screenings, but also experience providing health education about lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise.

Food Strong’s Community Outreach Associates provided follow-up resources and referred participants to local free or low-cost primary care providers, dentists, mental health services, and unemployment services.

As a result of the project, more than 60 participants connected with a primary care provider, dentist, or health insurance provider.  Further, survey results found a 20-30% improvement of feelings of trust in the healthcare system and primary care providers; and 30% of respondents indicated they were inspired to take steps to quit smoking.

The project was also impactful for participating PA students.

“PA students have had profound insights from directly seeing the impacts of poverty and food deserts on people’s health.  Post-event debriefs show that students felt more confident speaking to people of different backgrounds than their own about their overall health, oral health, and mental health and the barriers they face.  This project gives students that valuable field experience and growth potential in community empowerment and the opportunity to increase their comfort in working with marginalized communities while decreasing their own implicit biases,” shared Jereme.

CWRU faculty and students shared additional reflections:

  • “One of the most amazing parts of this project is getting to see the ‘Ah ha!’ lightbulb moment, when a student realizes they are making a difference or seeing the effect of a social determinant of health that was discussed in class. The addition of prebriefs and debriefs has made the experience more impactful.”
  • “One particular moment a student shared, was when she was counselling a client about smoking cessation, and they commented how they were working on it, but they were proud that they had stopped smoking crack cocaine. The student was dumbfounded. The experience really puts into perspective how health care can be far down the list of essential needs for a person.”
  • “Students have also commented on recognizing microaggressions and [how] stigmatizing neighborhoods can have an impact on their care and attitude toward others.”
  • “They realized that a lack of health care is not usually an active choice, but a summation of not knowing what is available, the best place to get the care needed, and having access to resources or where to find them.”

The Care Strong Project will remain an integral part of CWRU PA program’s Community Service and Experiential Learning Course.

This project was supported by the nccPA Health Foundation’s Be the CHANGE grant  and additional funding.

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