Dr. Jim Florence, chair of community health at East Tennessee State University College of Public Health, has co-written an article in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice that outlines the “community-as-classroom” approach that the college has used to teach public health in rural Appalachia for almost two decades. Titled “Community as Classroom: Teaching and Learning Public Health in Rural Appalachia” the article reviews three examples of community-academic partnerships that have been a key part of including public health students in efforts to address regional health problems.
The report identified five basic lessons learned with the over-arching conclusion being that community-based instruction is a very effective mechanism of providing students the real-world skills that they need to be successful in the work-place, while, at the same time, helping communities address their identified health issues.
In the “Sevier County Schools Worksite Wellness Program,” students created an on-going wellness program for 668 school system employees in Sevier County, Tennessee. They conducted health assessments and health counseling and were able to document increases in employee health scores. The data gathered helped the school system to prioritize resources and establish system-wide health-related goals. The program was characterized by collaboration between students at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels – with BS students conducting the needs assessment and developing the educational materials, MPH students conducting the health assessments and working with the councils, and DrPH students supervising the project.
In the “Tri-State Collaborative Cancer Control Project,” students explored factors that contribute to the high disparities in diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and substance abuse. They presented their findings to community leaders and others, and helped to procure a CDC grant in cancer communication. This project was carried out by MPH students in the “Social and Behavioral Theory” course.
In the “Health Disparities among African Americans in Northeast Tennessee project,” student activity led to the creation of a new regional African American health coalition and helped to organize the first regional African American Health summit. This work was carried out by MPH students in the “Consulting with Communities and Organizations” course.
As stated in the report, “In each setting, students gained insight into the practical application of public health competencies by observing, hearing, and assisting actual community health professionals, volunteers, and other representatives of the priority populations as they functioned within their respective social arena,” the report stated. “In addition, experiential learning and reflection provided opportunities for students to explore the individuality of each community, their assets, and their social networks. The courses facilitated real understanding of population diversity and social determinants of health disparities.”
The article was co-authored with Mr. Bruce Behringer, who at the time was Associate Vice President and Executive Director Office of Rural and Community Health and Community Partnerships and who held a faculty position in the Department of Community Health. Mr. Behringer has subsequently joined the Tennessee Department of Health as Deputy Commissioner for Quality Improvement and Training.
To read the report, click here.
[Photo (from top to bottom): Dr. Jim Florence and Mr. Bruce Behringer]