Seeking health equity

TEACH-MS targets the urban underserved

In Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, a majority of residents are members of minority groups and a significant part of the community can be classified as working poor or unemployed.

Accompanying that poverty are health problems that disproportionally strike underserved urban neighborhoods: type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, infant mortality, drug abuse.

TEACH-MS, short for Transforming Education and Community Health for Medical Students, aims to create physician leaders who understand how urban underserved communities work, and can use that context to improve health.

Launched in 2010, the UC Davis School of Medicine track is strong in fundamental medical education but also goes the extra mile to teach students how to disseminate health information effectively and equitably, with crucial sensitivity to cultural and economic obstacles.

For example, effective and respectful nutritional counseling that aims to stave off type 2 diabetes must be delivered in the context of what a patient learned about nutrition growing up, what foods they can reasonably afford on a restricted budget – and whether they can even find healthy options nearby in inner-city food deserts with limited transportation.

The skills to deliver this care emerge through hands-on clinical experiences at community clinics in Oak Park, including a longstanding bidirectional partnership with Sacramento County to deliver care and train students and medical residents through its Federally Qualified Health Center for low-income adults. (Three TEACH residency graduates are also primary care providers at the county).

Students also network with community leaders and support programs and develop response plans, gaining social context to apply with both patients and populations.

“Engaging our students in the community early in their training helps them to approach each patient with kindness, to recognize personal bias and abandon judgment, to truly listen and to meet the patient where they are,” said Dr. Stephany Sanchez, a UC Davis internal medicine physician and TEACH residency graduate who now co-directs the program. “Ultimately, that allows them to build an alliance with the patient in order to better their health.”

The program currently accepts up to six students from each incoming class.