SOM Receives Community Service Award

ALBUQUERQUE, NM - The University of New Mexico School of Medicine has been named 2008 recipient of the prestigious Spencer Foreman Award for Outstanding Community Service by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).  The award honors member institutions that have a longstanding, major institutional commitment to addressing community needs and which have developed exceptional programs that go well beyond the traditional role of academic medicine to reach communities.

The award was renamed in 2007 to honor Spencer "Spike" Foreman, M.D., who established the award in 1993 while serving as chair of the AAMC.  It will be presented Nov. 1 at the AAMC’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. 

“With a commitment to serving the entire state, the University of New Mexico School of Medicine (UNM) is truly on the frontier of community service, pioneering the ‘bottom-up’ approach to community outreach,” wrote AAMC officials in announcing the award.  They also noted that almost all of the state's 33 counties are classified as federally designated "health professional shortage areas," which leave many New Mexicans with little access to quality health care.

The award cited several innovative programs that support UNM’s mission of serving the state's communities through direct patient care, training and exploring the relevant causes of both health and disease including the UNM HEROs program, the Health Commons initiative, and Project ECHO. 

“We are honored to receive this award.  Our goal has always been to be responsive to the stated needs of the community,” said Paul D. Roth, M.D., UNM executive vice president for Health Sciences, and dean of the UNM School of Medicine.  “Healthy communities are a key priority for UNM and we believe the strength of our programs lies in a two-way dialogue with community members.  In this way, we have been able to develop services that will be relevant to them.” 

As one example, community service by students is not only encouraged, but embedded in the medical school's curriculum. First-year medical students have afternoons free for service engagement and, in the summer before their second year, students complete practical immersions, exposing them to New Mexico's neediest populations (Native Americans and undocumented immigrants). The school hopes that students will return to practice in these communities-and statistics show that more than 50 percent of its graduates stay in New Mexico.

In providing these services, UNM takes a bottom-up (instead of a "top-down") approach, allowing communities to voice their health care needs and programs to be tailored accordingly.  "We have a proven track record of successful and sustained community programs that have been achieved through the collective efforts of our faculty, staff, residents, medical students, and community partners,” said Roth.   

For example, the Health Extension Rural Offices (HEROs) program seeks to improve the overall health status of medically underserved areas by reducing health disparities and addressing the underlying social determinants of disease. Jointly run by the UNM and New Mexico State University in collaboration with the UNM Health Sciences Center, this unique approach enables HEROs' workers to focus on the health and social needs of each community and help develop a local capacity to address them. In true pioneer spirit, one volunteer explains the HEROs philosophy as the program that asks, "Why not?" rather than, "Why?"  

Community input also has been critical to the success of UNM's Health Commons initiative, which models the medical home approach to patient care. Serving inner-city neighborhoods and rural counties, this safety-net program seeks to break the poverty cycle for the uninsured and underinsured. By pooling resources from its partnerships with public and private sector businesses, health care providers, local and state government agencies, elected officials, associations, and advisory boards, Health Commons has become a seamless provider of social, medical, and behavioral services. The initiative takes an integrated, even holistic, approach to care by looking at economic and social factors of health problems (like unemployment), thus surpassing the traditional notion of primary care services. Additionally, the provision of comprehensive care services in one location reduces visit and referral wait times and also prevents duplicative procedures. 

Guided by community input, the UNM now utilizes technology to reach out to patients with chronic, complex diseases in even the most remote sections of the state.  Through Project Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO), UNM enables patients in these areas to be "seen" by specialists in other parts of the state. For example, having identified populations with high hepatitis C rates, Project ECHO now links specialists with rural health care providers in weekly teleconferences to improve access to state-of-the-art care. Specialists also provide distance learning by training rural providers in cutting-edge procedures through the weekly sessions.

Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322

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