A team of medical students from the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) is creating and teaching original curriculum to promote preventative care and healthy lifestyle choices among high school students in the Washoe County School District (WCSD).
The medical students design content for A Healthier Nevada: Youth Educational Modules, which helps fulfill health objectives outlined in the Nevada Academic Content Standards for Health. Each module distills complicated medical topics into fun activities and class discussions which are accessible to all students. Interactive lessons range from the biological basis of stress, interpersonal relationships, exercise, addiction and nutrition.
“As medical students with a passion for community engagement and teaching, we knew that it would be incredibly beneficial to take what we were learning ... and deliver this content to youth in northern Nevada.”
Medical students visit health and biology classes at Galena High School, Reno High School and Sparks High School, and plan to expand their outreach efforts to additional Washoe County high schools.
Powering the initiative are third-year medical students Alexa Allen, Matt Biondi, Brandon Conner, Megan Rescigno and Katie Weller; and second-year medical students Ariel Hierholzer, Erica Kim, Sydney Laughton, Justine Resnik and Kendal Warner.
Demographic data overwhelmingly indicates that this kind of program is needed in Washoe County. As part of the 2019 Nevada High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 995 WCSD high school students reported that:
- 7% had seriously considered suicide during the 12 months prior to the survey—more than twice the national average
- 2% met the clinical definition for depression, reporting that they felt sad or hopeless for more than two weeks in a row
- 3% were bullied on campus and 15% were cyber-bullied
- 3% had experienced physical dating violence
- Nearly half of students (48.7%) had used electronic cigarettes, and 20.3% had tried a traditional cigarette
- 7% had used marijuana
- 6% had used prescription opiates for nonmedical purposes
“When we decided to create this project, these statistics shocked all of us,” said third-year medical student Brandon Conner. “As medical students with a passion for community engagement and teaching, we knew that it would be incredibly beneficial to take what we were learning from a physician-in-training standpoint and deliver this content to youth in northern Nevada.”
Conner explained that preventative medicine is a gold standard in the modern health care system but is more of a goal than a reality, since just one doctor’s visit per year lacks the impact needed for lasting change in a patient’s lifestyle. “By bringing clinical medical education to students several times throughout the year using interactive, engaging modules, our project seeks to bring these students this lasting change.”
Medical students have the unique ability to relate to other students and teach them about health care, while developing their own professional identities.
“Health care doesn’t need to be reactive—a response to a disease that’s already happened. It can also be proactive and prevent that disease from happening in the first place."
“This project has taught me an incredible amount about preventative care,” said third-year medical student and founding A Healthier Nevada committee member Katie Weller. “Health care doesn’t need to be reactive—a response to a disease that’s already happened. It can also be proactive and prevent that disease from happening in the first place. We designed our modules with that idea in mind. We teach students about everything from healthy communication to common exercise myths. I’ve learned how to effectively communicate medical information in a way that’s engaging and approachable, which I’ll definitely use in my practice.”
Added third-year medical student Matt Biondi, “So many health problems the nation currently faces, like heart disease and cancer, can be drastically reduced by improving the choices Americans make about their health each day. But long-lasting change comes from influencing the young people of our community, and future medical providers connecting with high schoolers allows us to better connect with future patients while enhancing the trust they have in their own health care providers.”
Amy McFarland serves as the faculty advisor for the student-led committee and Director of Community Based Medical Education for UNR Med. “In 2017, two UNR Med students, who are now physicians, started this project with a particular focus on adolescent health. The current group has expanded that idea to create and implement a model program for local youth that addresses current public health concerns and reinforces the importance and normalcy of communication with health care providers,” said McFarland. “In addition to succeeding in medical school, I am so proud of all of their accomplishments. From developing curriculum, connecting with the local community and coordinating with teachers, to interacting with high school students, publishing research and creating a formalized committee for the overall sustainability of the program, these medical students are committed to making a difference in the lives of our local youth.”