Chicago's Rush University Uses Health of the Public Funding to Expand Its Community Service Initiatives Program

From 1993 to 1997, Rush University built on its pre-existing Rush Community Service Initiatives Program (RCSIP), a network of community service and educational programs, established in 1990, matching medical students with the social and health needs of disadvantaged communities.

Project staff aimed to build on the progress of program by creating a core didactic curriculum integrated with an expanded series of community service projects with a focus on prevention, including population-based research at the community level. The program received a grant from the Northern Trust Company to support the Henry Horner Pediatric Asthma Program, as well as donations from pharmaceutical firms.

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

Key Results

  • A new course sequence for all medical students covering five subjects (community health, health care systems, primary care practices, biostatistics and epidemiology) was pilot tested in 1995 and 1996 for full implementation in 1997. The course, called Health of the Public, covers subjects including:
    • Understanding what constitutes a community.
    • Determining existing health problems from a community perspective.
    • Describing health care from a community perspective.
    • Designing a plan that combines both a community and a health professional perspective for meeting the health needs of a population.
  • Rush arranged for medical students to work in nine community service programs that serve disadvantaged populations, including a homeless shelter, a pediatric asthma program and a refugee mentoring program.

    Four of the nine also welcomed volunteers from other health sciences. Four of the programs were clinical sites, providing health education, preventive care and management of acute and chronic illnesses. The five non-clinical sites addressed health promotion, education, public health and patient advocacy, risk management and/or prevention of secondary problems or diseases.

    At the same time, a faculty working group began formulating a practice/research plan involving an interdisciplinary approach to teaching both health promotion and a population-based perspective to care within an existing community setting.
  • Rush sponsored five community-based summer fellowships (two international) in population-based research, and one senior elective was created for students who want more training in the field. Additionally, a major component of the Health of the Public course sequence is to train 10 primary care scholars who will pursue careers as leaders in academic primary care.
  • The Rush Community Service Initiatives Program helped develop and sustain Rush's partnerships with local community groups. One example was the Henry Horner Pediatric Asthma Program where local residents of the housing project were trained to become community asthma workers, thus providing education, service and jobs.

    After pilot data showed positive programmatic impact, the program developed a proposal in conjunction with the Chicago Housing Authority and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to replicate the program in two other housing developments.

Project staff wrote two book chapters and a journal article, and made presentations at a variety of conferences and events.