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Release: Feb. 23, 2000

Medical student brings community service curriculum to University of Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa College of Medicine is one of six U.S. medical schools chosen to take part in a student-led curriculum reform project organized by the American Medical Student Association (AMSA).

The Promoting, Reinforcing and Improving Medical Education (PRIME) project aims to advance community service and cultural diversity issues within medical curricula, fostering values that will help medical students serve others. Tracy Reittinger, a second-year medical student from Dyersville, Iowa, was instrumental in bringing the program to the UI.

"I thought we had a need for this program," she said, explaining that while UI medical students take part in various volunteer service opportunities, such experiences are not formal parts of their education. Her proposal, which focuses on the community service component of the PRIME project, received a $12,000 grant from AMSA.

The two-year UI project will begin this summer, enrolling 20 to 25 first-year medical students in an elective course that will involve lectures, small group sessions and work with local service agencies. The course will emphasize the specific health needs of different populations -- including women, men, children, people with disabilities and others -- and health issues arising from problems like domestic violence and substance abuse.

The course will use a model community-responsive curriculum promoted by AMSA that incorporates historical perspectives on community health, differing cultural models of health and illness, personal and professional development of medical students, and community needs assessment.

To this model, Reittinger has added an initiative that asks students to give back some of what they learn by designing educational programs targeted to the community groups they serve.

Though the project is a student-led effort, it has received enthusiastic support from the College of Medicine. Marian Schwabbauer, Ph.D., assistant dean for student affairs and curriculum at the college, assisted Reittinger in developing her grant application. If successful, a course of this type could become a permanent part of the UI medical curriculum.

The PRIME initiative is the latest in a string of service-oriented projects for Reittinger, who will take part in a panel discussion at AMSA's national convention next month in Washington, D.C. In addition to her role with the new course, Reittinger enters the demanding third year of medical school this summer. Fortunately, she said, "I probably do better the busier I am."

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.