University of Tennessee Uses Health of the Public Funding to Provide Health Education to Rural Youth, Encourage Medical Careers

From 1993 to 1997, researchers at the University of Tennessee, Memphis, provided health education to rural young people while exposing health professional students to rural communities and principles of population-based medicine.

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

The University of Tennessee, Memphis, which first received Health of the Public funding in 1990, established a partnership with the Tennessee 4-H organization, which ran a variety of programs for 175,000 young people ages 10 to 17, mostly in rural areas.

Key Results

During the RWJF-funded round, the Health of the Public project resulted in:

  • A Health of the Public Team of 15–20 health professional students taught basic health skills and disease prevention to 4-H members attending week-long summer camps.

    Team members were selected based on past experience, their interest in adolescents, and willingness to learn and work hard. The team led small group sessions on topics such as hypertension and organized less formal activities such as games and relays that reinforced health topics covered in the small group sessions.

    The campers were from diverse backgrounds with varied health risks. The hope was that the campers would pass the skills and information they learned on to other family and community members.
  • Team members used their interactions with campers to talk about careers as health professionals. Campers were given addresses and phone numbers of team members and encouraged to keep in contact throughout the year.

    Names of 4-H members who indicated an interest in a health related career were entered into the University of Tennessee's data bank and sent information about community- and campus-based health career-related opportunities.
  • The Tennessee Rural Health Association and the Tennessee Medical Association worked with the University of Tennessee to enlist clinical sites in rural areas that would provide preceptor opportunities for members of the team.

    In addition, the school enlisted rural hospitals to provide financial support to students who agree to practice for at least three years in an underserved area of Tennessee. Sites located near 4-H camps also participated in the Hteam's camp activities.
  • The University of Tennessee developed a variety of interdisciplinary, case-based, interactive teaching and learning experiences in population-based preventive medicine topics.

    It made additions to computer-based campus resources on topics including primary care, injury prevention, agriculture chemical poisoning, risk appraisals, evidence-based medicine, and research methods.

    A new pre-matriculation workshop, entitled MEDPREP, was designed to help students without the usual science-based undergraduate background, or who are older and entering medicine as a second career, prepare for medical school.

    The University of Tennessee has found that many of these students are committed to practicing primary care in rural communities.

    Other Health of the Public-related curricula include the first-year Preventive Medicine course, the second-year Introduction to Clinical Skills course, and third- and fourth-year clinical rotations with an emphasis on preventive medicine.
  • The project produced a handbook for clinical teaching. The project director made two presentations at national meetings on preventive medicine curricula.