Nashville College Health of the Public Project Expands Its Adolescent Health Education and Outreach Program

Health of the Public: An Academic Challenge

From 1993 to 1997, Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., established a new curriculum in adolescent health, building on a pre-existing initiative to reduce teen pregnancy.

In 1987, Meharry launched the "I Have a Future" program with the goal of reducing adolescent pregnancy. By the early 1990s, the program, designed by Henry W. Foster, M.D., had developed into a 12-month, community-based, comprehensive health initiative serving adolescents and children aged 6 to 17 years of age.

The target community lived in public housing or in an economically depressed area where most of the young people were considered at-risk for early pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases; alcohol and other substance abuse; crime and violence; school dropout and unemployment.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health of the Public: An Academic Challenge national program, which Meharry joined in 1990.

Key Results: Results during the 1993–97 phase of the program included:

  • Meharry created a new Adolescent Health and Health Promotion track within its Masters of Science in Public Health program. The curriculum focuses on adolescent development, community mobilization, human sexuality counseling, health promotion, and community-based research and evaluation.

    Special emphasis is placed on teaching medical professionals how to understand their target population. For example, when working with the "I Have a Future" target community, issues surrounding human sexuality cannot be addressed using a typical health promotion model that one might use for a middle class audience.

    Instead, the curriculum infused principles of Afrocentric thought into the transmission of this sensitive information. Students pursuing the Masters of Science in Public Health degree received practical experience by working in the "I Have a Future" office and clinic at a local high school.
  • Meharry offered a modified and abbreviated version of the Masters of Science in Public Health curriculum, representing the core body of knowledge, at a one-week summer institute. The summer program was designed to attract health professionals from across the country with an interest in adolescent health.
  • Meharry launched a community-based adolescent summer internship program for medical students pursuing a joint MD/Masters of Science in Public Health degree or with a special interest in adolescent health. Students received training and education on community-based adolescent health issues, with a special focus on high-risk adolescents. During the eight-week internship, the interns were assigned to five organizations providing direct services to African-American youth for hands-on training.
  • Through a collaborative effort with Tennessee State School of Nursing, nursing students worked half days at "I Have a Future" during their second semester of their second year in training.

An article by Dr. Foster on preventing teen pregnancies appeared in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing.

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