Creating a Student Health Volunteer Corps

Why we need a Student Health Volunteer Corps

In 2007, 14 student volunteer health organizations in Los Angeles from UCLA alone helped over 12,000 community residents get health screenings and connect to needed health services. At other public land-grant universities across the country students are also helping to bridge the gap in access to preventive health care that keeps many community residents from being healthy. With better standards and coordination these programs could become a powerful new national initiative.

A national student volunteer health corps, modeled on the U.S. Public Health Service Corps and the Medical Reserve Corps, would bring needed preventive services into underserved communities. Research has repeatedly shown that a large percentage of students who volunteer in underserved neighborhoods go on to practice professionally in those communities, thus a volunteer health corps could increase the number of students who commit their clinical, research and policy careers to addressing health disparities.

Volunteers from student health organizations can conduct regular health fairs and other health-promotion activities, such as providing information on organ donation, insurance enrollment and monitoring chronic health conditions. In turn, many uninsured community residents have come to depend on volunteer-provided health services because they lack other affordable or available care options.

The BRITE Center’s research into the potential of leveraging student-run health organizations makes a series of recommendations about next steps for universities and policymakers, including:

  • creating credit or non-credit academic courses to ensure up-to-date screening and health promotion training through university-based community service learning courses;
  • developing best practices policies to include standards for training; guidelines for educating student volunteers on the specific needs of communities based on available data and research; and an assessment format so that the impact of efforts can be tracked; and
  • supporting “Good Samaritan” laws in states that protect community- and student-based organizations against the threat of lawsuits.

Universities and state and federal volunteer and health agencies should consider creating a national student volunteer health corps as an innovative way to leverage current student work in communities for greater impact toward improving our nation’s health.

Related Links

Health Fair Planning Guide
As a way to bridge the gap in health resources and better leverage campus/community partnerships, the Center produced an online planning guide on how to create and run student-led community health fairs. The guide illustrates general steps to consider when planning a health fair. The guide includes community health assessments that can be used by community organizations to monitor and identify health disparities at the community level, as well as tools to conduct behavioral health education and health promotion. There are also health promotion materials in several languages and a listing of health fair activities for children. Learn more about creating a student-led health fair.

Civic Engagement: Addressing Social Determinants in Racial/Ethnic Minority Communities to Reduce and Prevent Health Disparities
This service learning seminar examines how addressing social determinants in racial/ethnic minority communities can reduce or eliminate physical and mental health disparities. Currently in racial and ethnic minority communities, health status of individuals can be a function of the built environment, exposure to pollutants and toxins, scarcity of supermarkets or stores with fresh produce and nutritional food, noise levels and a variety of other stressors and unhealthy conditions. Yet health interventions are often focused on individual level change or increases in access to health care with little in the way of changing risk environments. This course is designed to identify and provide opportunities to understand how to address social determinants related to negative health outcomes in racial/ethnic minority neighborhoods and communities and to experience how to use the social determinants literature in the service of collaborative activities with community organizations.
There are a number of social capital interventions that can help to reduce or eliminate these health disparities. The course is designed to highlight the role that the next generation of leaders can play in the creation of social capital and enhancement of social connectedness for improving the physical health and emotional well-being of racial/ethnic minorities in partnerships with community agencies and organizations.