Michigan State University College of Human Medicine
Community service has been a central tenant for the Michigan State University (MSU) College of Human Medicine since its founding in 1964 as one of the nation’s first community-based medical schools. Today, the college partners with communities across Michigan in ways that are responsive to the needs of each community to improve population health, educate future physicians, and pursue novel research.
One such partnership is with the city of Flint, one of the college’s original clinical sites and home to its public health–focused initiatives. To support this work, MSU College of Human Medicine created the Flint Public Health Research Advisory Committee, composed of representatives from the university, area hospitals, community stakeholders, and government. After identifying three areas of focus for community-based research—healthy behaviors, chronic diseases, and behavioral health—the group helped recruit top public health researchers to work in Flint on those issues.
These community partnerships were critical in the collaboration with Flint to expose and address the recent water crisis. Following Flint’s 2014 switch to a new water source, a Flint-based MSU College of Human Medicine research team found that children’s blood lead levels had nearly doubled. After publishing the startling study in a national journal, researchers convinced the state to adopt a safer water source for Flint. However, MSU researchers and practitioners knew that two years with a highly corrosive water source could have long-lasting health consequences.
To mitigate the effects of lead exposure and develop long-term solutions for Flint’s children, MSU and Hurley Children’s Hospital launched a Pediatric Public Health Initiative (PPHI) with three focuses of intervention for the children of Flint: improved nutrition, expanded educational opportunities, and targeted medical care. The PPHI involves several other MSU colleges and includes the county health department and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
These collaborative Flint partnerships are indicative of the distinct approach at the College of Human Medicine for supporting diverse communities across Michigan. Its Rural Physician Program, for example, introduces medical students to the rewards and challenges of rural practice in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The immersive, firsthand experience has significantly increased the number of doctors practicing in the region and is a national model for other programs seeking to enhance a rural workforce.
To coordinate these multiple engagement programs, the medical school’s assistant deans and administrators across its seven campuses meet regularly to ensure comparable community education experiences for students statewide. At all sites, learners are introduced to community-partnered work early in medical school through structured activities in the first two years, including 40 hours of required community service.
For decades, the MSU College of Human Medicine has partnered with communities across Michigan to advance the health of the state and beyond. Even in the face of major obstacles, such unity can result in triumph, as the MSU College of Human Medicine and its partners proved in solving the Flint water crisis.