FEATURE | Posted May 15, 2014

High schoolers help heal their communities

The FaMILY program provides core skills to teens interested in health careers

Program leader Brian Hayes, medical student Alexander Nguyen
and participant Clorissa Williams offer their perspectives
on the FaMILY program.

One of the most important lessons during medical school is that addressing community barriers to health is just as important as treating disease.

High school students hoping for careers in health also have the chance to learn this lesson through the Family Medicine Institute of Leadership for Youth (FaMILY) program.

Sponsored by the UC Davis Department of Family and Community Medicine, FaMILY provides teens with opportunities to gain leadership, advocacy and communication skills they can use immediately and, ideally, build upon in preparation for careers in primary care medicine.

The Youth Development Network, a Sacramento nonprofit organization, partnered with UC Davis to develop the curriculum, which begins with panel discussions on pathways to health careers. Students also receive intensive evaluations of their particular leadership strengths, and then work in groups to identify and plan solutions for community health issues.

On April 19, five student teams from the inaugural FaMILY program came to the UC Davis School of Medicine and presented their plans for:

  • Decorating pediatric hospital rooms
  • Improving school lunches
  • Expanding community gardens
  • Promoting recycling
  • Making public transportation safer

“We had a diverse group from very different backgrounds who came together in new ways,” said Brian Hayes, research development director for the department. “I was impressed with every single one of them. There’s a lot of potential for them to go far in health care or any other field they decide to pursue.”

The teams are now putting their ideas for change into action through engagement with community leaders.

High school students
High school students interested in health-care careers participated in the inaugural UC Davis FaMILY program.

“Our next step is to let the school health department and school board know that students do want change in their food and that they know it can be better — they want more variety and quality,” said Jennifer Katiuzhinsky, a freshman at Sheldon High School in Elk Grove, Calif.

Funded by the Office of Statewide Health Care Planning and Development, FaMILY is one of many Department of Family and Community Medicine programs aimed at identifying and nurturing future health leaders. The department focuses on creating pipelines to careers in primary care medicine — general medicine, family medicine and pediatrics — where significant workforce gaps are expected as more people become insured and the need for general physicians to coordinate care increases.

“The students amazed us with the energy and skill they showed for improving the environments where they live and learn,” said Ronald Fong, associate clinical professor at UC Davis and FaMILY advisor. “We know they walked away from this experience more confident in their own abilities and with a much better understanding the important link between ‘health’ and ‘community.’”