Delivering Better Health Care to Urban Communities

An alarming shortage of primary care physicians that is expected to multiply over the next decade has ignited concerns among many urban communities, where access to health care has already dipped to historic lows. In Cleveland, where the health care industry drives much of the region's economy, many urban neighborhoods lack even essential services.

To address this need, Cleveland State University and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) have developed a joint medical school program specifically designed to produce primary care physicians, diversify the pool of doctors and train physicians to partner with other health care providers for a more comprehensive approach to treatment.

The program began this year with a cohort of interested undergraduates entering their junior year. We began by developing a community engagement strategy and a network of pipeline programs that identifies and nurtures minority students aspiring to become doctors.

The challenge exists, however, that a diverse group of students qualified to pursue medical school does not simply appear from good intentions. They must be identified, cultivated and supported, beginning in high school and continuing through their college years. Mentorship is a critical component, as well as the the creation of learning communities assembled from student-mentors, established physicians and community leaders.

The introduction to urban health begins in earnest during the students' final two years in college. While they take many of their traditional science and medical school prerequisites, they also enroll in a unique sequence of courses focused on urban health issues, which among other perspectives, helps students appreciate how family and community lie at the core of many health care issues.

The process will even take students out of the hospital and into the community for clinical training. It will link families to individual medical students, who will follow their patients over years of clinical training for a more personalized approach. Too often, clinical training erodes into a collection of isolated episodes with little understanding of the long-term results.

The medical students will be trained in parallel with other health care students, such as nurses and allied health providers, in didactic coursework that extends a team-approach into the community for interdisciplinary clinical training.

Thirty-five students will be fostered by faculty, physicians, mentors and community representatives. They will proceed through their final two years of college as a cohesive learning community focused on the common goal of primary care, and are guaranteed admission into medical school, assuming they meet the GPA and MCAT requirements.

This one-of-kind program reflects a common interest between Cleveland State and NEOMED to provide an effective workforce for one of the largest metropolitan health care markets in the nation. More importantly, it addresses the dire need for qualified family doctors in underserved areas. While we cannot guarantee that every student will return to Cleveland as a primary care provider, we have structured a program that dramatically increases the odds.

Together, Cleveland State and NEOMED are looking to the next generation of health care workers and combining our resources to meet the challenge for students and the future of this region.

In charting a path for new university programs, it has been essential to leverage available intelligence to train college graduates and professionals with the skills needed to compete in a rapidly changing job market.

Universities can no longer afford to educate, train and prepare students on their own. Diminishing resources have made it imperative that we creatively collaborate with community partners to accomplish these goals. This has been the path for many new programs at Cleveland State, and as I look back, it has become abundantly clear that the end results through partnership have fared far greater than what any university might have accomplished on its own.