Where medical students are reaching underserved communities

University of Houston College of Medicine's Household-Centered Care expands access where healthcare is scarce
By: | February 16, 2021
Students at the University of Houston College of Medicine will get hands-on experience in promoting wellness and providing healthcare in underserved communities.Students at the University of Houston College of Medicine will get hands-on experience in promoting wellness and providing healthcare in underserved communities.

Families who live in lower-income Houston neighborhoods where healthcare is scarce are getting expanded access through the University of Houston College of Medicine’s new community health initiative.

The university’s Household-Centered Care program connects families in Houston’s Third Ward and East End with teams of community health workers, and students and faculty in the disciplines of medicine, nursing and social work.

The teams will focus societal factors that impact health, such as the environment, housing, employment and food insecurity says, Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the college of medicine.

Nearly a quarter of the resident Harris County, which contains Houston, are uninsured, and the entire state of Texas is facing a “severe shortage” of primary care doctors, according to the college.


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Healthcare teams from the college will use the statewide Unite Us Platform to make electronic referrals for families in the program. The platform also allows the college to track outcomes, uncover service gaps and identify at-risk populations.

The overall goal is to empower community members to take ownership of their own health, college leaders say.

“Being able to efficiently help people link to necessary services has the potential to have a much greater impact on overall health than anything we do in an examination room,” says Dr. Donald Briscoe, a family physician and the college’s director of longitudinal primary care.

He points out that less than 20% of health outcomes are based on medical care, while 80% are shaped by genetics and social determinants of health, Briscoe, says.

Families are now being recruited to join the program. Eventually, the health care teams will work out of two hubs: an apartment complex in the Third Ward and a community center in the East End.

The University of Houston’s College of Medicine holds a white coat ceremony to welcome its first incoming class on August 8, 2020.

The University of Houston’s College of Medicine holds a white coat ceremony to welcome its first incoming class on August 8, 2020.

The initiative also gives students hands-on experience in promoting wellness and providing healthcare in underserved communities.

“This program is unique for first year medical students who typically just hit the books, but this allows them to get on the streets to see firsthand what the issues are in a very tangible way,” said Dr. David Buck, the college’s associate dean for community health. “This helps our students see that practicing medicine isn’t enough to impact health, so they need to get out of their classrooms and into the community.”


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