Boston's Tufts University Uses Health of the Public Funding to Emphasize Community Health in Medical Curriculum

Health of the Public: An Academic Challenge

From 1993 to 1997, Tufts University, Boston, established a partnership with a community health and social service organization to design, implement, and evaluate a didactic and practical curriculum stressing the interwoven concepts of culture and community for the improved training of health professionals.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national program Health of the Public: An Academic Challenge.

Tufts University School of Medicine was one of the original Health of the Public participants, joining the program in 1987. In the first round, it expanded the population perspective within the curriculum and in the overall focus of the medical school, including the institution and growth of a combined MD/MPH degree program.

In the project, Tufts University formed a partnership with South Cove Community Health Center, the major provider of community health and social services to residents of Boston's Chinatown and surrounding Asian communities.

Key Results: Tufts reported the following results of this partnership:

  • The Tufts/South Cove partnership developed and implemented a pre-clinical elective, "Understanding the Health Problems of Chinatown." Offered at South Cove, the curriculum provided first- and second-year medical students an academic and practical introduction to community problems, focusing on the social, cultural, and ethnic basis of ambulatory health problems.

    The curriculum was reviewed by a focus group of medical directors representing the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations and by student members of the Tufts Asian American Health Forum.

    Ten students were enrolled in the first class, beginning in October 1994. Handling that number of students proved to be a burden to South Cove personnel, and later versions of the course admitted fewer students.
  • A pre-clinical preceptorship for two first-year students began in October 1994. The students spent one afternoon a week at South Cove working with a primary care physician. The experience extended over their first and second years. Other medical students and M.D./M.P.H. students also completed rotations or internships at South Cove.
  • At the end of the project, two M.D./M.P.H. students undertook an evaluation to examine and address the barriers (e.g., number of sites, multiple record-keeping systems, language) that impede successful community outreach in South Cove.
  • The project produced one journal article and hosted a regional conference of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Medical Student Association.