Health Sciences colleges ready, willing to help community

April 15, 2024

Outreach through programs, research and engaging the next generation of health-care providers advances the mission of each college.

University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix student James Bates teaches high school student Maalavika Menon how to do CPR.

The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix’s Scrubs programs allow high schoolers from across the state to explore careers in health care. It is so popular, there’s a waiting list. College of Medicine – Phoenix student James Bates teaches high school student Maalavika Menon how to do CPR.

From mobile health units providing services to the uninsured to guiding “tweens” through life’s growing pains, University of Arizona Health Sciences faculty and staff impact the community in many ways.

The depth and breadth of outreach isn’t unusual considering public service is part of each college’s mission.

“The community is who we serve,” said Paloma Beamer, PhD, interim associate dean for community engagement at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. “I don’t think we matter if it weren't for the public or the community. That’s where our passion comes from – serving the community.”

Across the Health Sciences, community service and outreach is built into the daily operations of each college. For instance, the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson’s Thomas D. Boyer Liver Institute offers free hepatitis C testing and does regular local outreach, including at big, public events. The UArizona Arthritis Center and the Sarver Heart Center conduct lecture series. Every year, the UArizona College of Nursing’s Nurse Anesthesiology Doctor of Nursing Practice program chooses nonprofits to support in what’s normally a one-day event, but last year’s partnership with the Veteran Village and Reintegration Center turned into a yearlong project

Engagement is essential 

Community engagement is as vital for researchers and programs as it is to the public, said Dan Combs, MD, an assistant professor in both pediatrics and sleep medicine at the College of Medicine – Tucson.

Public health workers in scrubs stand around an information table set up outside a parked mobile health unit truck.

Mobile health programs are one way the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health helps underserved populations access health screenings and provides important information.

“There are a lot of good programs, but if people don’t know about them, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Community outreach is really critical to make sure people get the resources they need.”

Combs, whose research focuses on the impact of sleep apnea and other disorders on children with Down syndrome, regularly gives talks to groups such as the Southern Arizona Network for Down Syndrome, or SANDS. As a clinical researcher, it provides him access to people who might want to participate in studies and gives parents the hope of new treatments. 

“Outreach gets the awareness out and, in turn, families get more involved with you and that’s where things happen,” he said.

Additionally, outreach gives patients a one-on-one chance to ask specific questions. People sometimes freeze up in a doctor’s office or forget things. They feel more free to talk in a relaxed, informal setting, which also gives Combs much-needed input on what is important to people.

“It’s a nice setting where we can learn from each other,” he said.

Perhaps at no time was the importance of outreach more evident than during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Beamer, a past winner of the Zuckerman College of Public Health’s Community Engagement Scholarship and Practice Award. 

“We spend so much time out in the community, we get to know people. During COVID, so many of the Public Health faculty jumped in,” Beamer said. “We knew that the students and university would impact the surrounding community we serve.”

Faculty members offered education, provided guidelines and information about programs and trained and implemented contact-tracing teams. Students collaborated with health agencies and community organizations to provide support while mobile health units delivered the vaccine to underserved populations, she said. 

Serving the next generation 

Outreach means engaging the next generation, too. 

“Kids deserve to be heard,” said Lindsay Bingham, MPH, CHES, psychosocial wellness program coordinator at the Zuckerman Family Center for Prevention and Health Promotion in the College of Public Health. “In our society, kids don’t yet have skills or tools in self-regulating the way adults do. Young people need help navigating these intense feelings with sensitivity and compassion from adults who can show them they’re not alone, and that their experiences are valid.” 

Bingham oversees activities for 70-80 fifth and sixth graders that focus on wellness, friendship, bullying, self-esteem, body kindness, media messages and puberty – life skills to help them navigate their age-specific challenges. UArizona students from different colleges serve as mentors. The Growing Girls program in the Marana Unified School District was already a success when there was a request for one for boys in 2017. During COVID, an afterschool coordinator on a different campus asked for help. 

“She reached out to us and said, ‘We’re having a mental health crisis.’ She said those exact words,” said Bingham, who graduated from UArizona with a master of public health in 2017 and has been overseeing outreach programs ever since.

Fifth- and sixth-graders pose for a group photo with a few college students and teachers in front of Old Main’s fountain.

Thanks to a yearlong after school program through the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, these fifth and sixth graders at Estes Elementary School in the Marana Unified School District are learning valuable life skills.

The yearlong programs have grown over the years, and attendance and retention are high, Bingham said. 

“The curriculum is really strong, and the kids really need it,” she said.

Some outreach programs are geared toward getting teens to consider joining health-care fields, such as the College of Medicine – Phoenix’s Scrubs programs, which give high school students the opportunity to explore different careers. Chip Young, who has coordinated the programs for six years, said there’s a waiting list and students from across the state participate.

In fact, Scrubs alumni have been admitted to the College of Medicine – Phoenix. The first students are due to graduate next year, said Young, program manager of Pipeline Initiatives for the College of Medicine – Phoenix. 

“Our medical students and the physicians who volunteer with our programs are able to share their life experiences and show our participants they can get to the career they want,” Young said.

Gavin Lehr, a biology and biotechnology teacher at Sahuarita High School, said he always takes advantage of Health Sciences outreach activities for his classes since college and career readiness are part of his job. 

“I feel my students most benefit from touring college-level lab facilities and having the opportunity to interact with people who are close to their own age who participate in research in those facilities,” said Lehr, who added that he recently ran into one of his former biotech students doing research at the BIO5 Institute.

“I think it can be very daunting for students to visualize themselves in a STEM or health career if they don't have contacts in those fields. When students get to meet peers who are already on that path, it makes those career paths seem more accessible.”

A sampling of UArizona Health Sciences outreach programs

UArizona Health Sciences colleges run many projects that give back to local communities. This is a sampling of the wide range of outreach programs that exist:

Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health

  • Mobile Health Units provide free preventive health screenings to underserved populations and promote healthy lifestyle choices with culturally and linguistically sensitive materials and workshops. 
  • Nosotros Comprometidos a Su Salud is a public health program that helps underserved Hispanic communities by informing, promoting and educating people about healthy habits and disease-prevention strategies.

College of Medicine – Tucson

Sarver Heart Center 

  • The center provides lifesaving community education in the form of heart health presentations and CPR training across greater Tucson.     

Department of Family and Community Medicine

  • Artworks provides adults with disabilities an opportunity to develop their artistic talents while offering training, research opportunities and field experience to students and professionals who want to learn how the visual arts can benefit those with disabilities.

College of Medicine – Phoenix

  • The Global Health program gives students the opportunity to care for underprivileged people in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, and learn about constraints in health care typically found in developing nations. 
  • InstaMed offers interactive, virtual mini-medical activities for high school students throughout the state who have an interest in medicine.

R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy

  • The Student and Older Adult Relationship (SOAR) Program pairs first-year pharmacy students with older adults, giving students the opportunity to practice interviewing and counseling skills; administering assessments; and reviewing medication, health and vaccination histories. 
  • The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center runs a free, 24-hour hotline for lifesaving information and medical expertise on poison and drug exposures as well as public education outreach.

College of Nursing

  • The college partners with the Tucson Flying Samaritans to conduct monthly medical and dental clinics in underserved, rural areas of Mexico.
  • Volunteering in community activities by helping on a co-op farm or assisting at shelters for families is part of the college's curriculum.

College of Health Sciences 

  • The college, which was approved by the Arizona Board of Regents in June 2023, is developing its graduate-level degree programs and will include outreach efforts and service learning as it grows.

Cancer Center